by Cheryl Weddle, RD/LD
Q: We will be having a lot of family in for the holidays. What can I do to insure that the foods prepared will be safe, especially since the meal usually stretches out for the entire day.
A: Food safety is an important consideration any time of the year, but during the holidays, food tends to sit out a lot longer than usual as guests get distracted by watching football or partaking of other festive activities. However, observing safe handling and storage practices is important when dealing with leftovers.
Here are some safety tips:
1. Follow the 2-hour rule: Hot perishable food that sits out for longer than two hours is considered unsafe to eat and needs to be thrown away. This is because the temperature of the food has most likely been in the Temperature Danger Zone (41 – 135 degrees F.) for too long and allowed bacteria to rapidly reproduce and contaminate the food, so if it has been two hours since the table was set and there’s still food on it, do not bother bagging it up and putting in the refrigerator – just throw it away.
2. Take care when sending leftovers home with guests: Sending leftovers home with guests is a great way to minimize the amount of refrigerator or freezer space needed by the host. However, the 2-hour rule still applies, but travel time now needs to be factored in. If guests taking leftovers will take a long time to get home and push food past the 2-hour mark, give them a cooler and some ice in which to transport their food or perhaps they could bring their own cooler.
3. Use the refrigerator or freezer, or both: If there are a lot of leftovers from your holiday meal, it is best to utilize both the refrigerator and freezer. Deciding which leftovers go where depends on how soon they will be eaten. Leftover turkey can keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and still be safe to eat. In the freezer, leftovers should be eaten within six months. After this period, it is not safety that suffers, only quality as the food will become more susceptible to freezer burn.
4. Store leftovers in shallow containers: The faster leftovers can cool, the better, because they spend less time in the Temperature Danger Zone. The best way to decrease the cooling time for leftovers is to store them in shallow pans or containers, which decreases the surface area of the food that needs to cool. Also, leftover turkey should be cut into smaller pieces, to decrease its surface area, too.
5. Store stuffing apart from the turkey: Stuffing can be cooked inside the turkey, but once cooking is done, the dressing needs to be separated from the turkey. If the turkey and stuffing are stored together, there is a risk of salmonella bacteria contaminating the stuffing. Storing the items separately in shallow containers is the only way to assure proper food safety. The holiday season is a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, so follow the above safety tips to assure that it is a happy, safe and healthy one!
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.