Food safety is a paramount concern over the holidays for everyone. Nobody wants anyone to get sick at such a busy time of year. We’ve got tips for meal hosts, party throwers and restaurants to make sure that your guests go home jolly.
Food safety for meal hots and party throwers
1. The turkey
Let’s start with prepping the turkey – never wash any poultry. It’s tempting to rinse out the cavity after removing the gizzards, but most turkeys come pre-rinsed and washing it can actually spread bacteria around your sink, countertops and dish cloths. The heat of cooking is much more effective against bacteria than washing it with water.
If you are cooking with food safety in mind, one of the more important tips is to cook your stuffing outside of your turkey. The purpose is twofold – the bird will cook more evenly, as the stuffing is not acting as insulation, and the stuffing will not be laced with the juices from the turkey, which may not be heated to a sufficient temperature to neutralize any potential hazards from the juice.
If you’re a stuffing-in-the-bird stickler, make sure to leave the turkey in the oven for the extra time recommended by the turkey cooking experts at Butterball – its site also contains many helpful calculators and tips to make your holiday turkey tasty and safe.
In terms of temperature, cook your turkey to at least 82 degrees Celsius, and measure the temperature with a poultry thermometer placed between the breast and drumstick.
2. Frequent handwashing
If you are preparing multiple dishes, make sure to wash your hands every time your hands actually touch food with soap and very warm water. This prevents cross contamination and keeps you and your guests safe. While antibacterial soap is typically not recommended for frequent use due to the antibacterial resistance it can build up, this is the one time of year you may want to bust it out for both yourself by the kitchen sink and your guests in the powder room.
3. The holiday buffet
“Buffet” is a word that strikes terror into the heart of food safety experts for a reason. You are letting food sit out of the fridge or oven for a period of time that can allow bacteria to thrive. To keep the holiday buffet safe for everyone, throw out any food that has been left out for more than two hours, and replenish it with new reheated food or food from the fridge at two-hour intervals.
This means a bit more work during your party, but it’s very easy to do if you have everything pre-wrapped. Put particularly troublesome items, such as soft cheese and deli meats, on their own plates. Listeria bacteria can survive on these items even when refrigerated, and begin to grow rapidly at room temperature. This is why you have the 2-hour limit on your buffet food – to prevent bacteria from multiplying.
To make it easier, sort your food into a few small plates, and replenish the buffet throughout the party as different items disappear. If you want to make sure this works seamlessly, appoint some good friends or family to be buffet police, and mark the time each food item was placed on the buffet on a small card underneath the plate.
Most importantly, if food has been left out for more than the two-hour limit, even hard cheese, toss it. This shouldn’t be too hard if you follow the small plates tip as there won’t be much left over. The risk isn’t worth the very temporary reward of eating that leftover cheese.
Food safety for restaurants
You’ll want to follow the tips above, but with a few extra caveats to allow for restaurant operations.
1. Prepping, storing and serving turkey
First of all, most restaurants cooking a holiday dinner tend to cook turkey ahead of time. Don’t wash it, cook it to 82C measured between the breast and drumstick, and don’t cook stuffing in it. Make sure to cook it all the way – some food service operators have been known to start partial cooking one day, then finish it the second day.
Once it is cooked, slice it and place it in shallow pans to cool. Otherwise it may not cool fast enough and bacteria can get to an unsafe level.
When storing, ensure that the meat is well-covered to prevent juices from other, uncooked items from cross-contaminating your turkey. Place it well away from uncooked items for serving, and cut it with tools specially designated just for the turkey if you haven’t pre-sliced. When reheating for serving, reheat it to at least 74 degrees Celsius.
2. Egg Nog
Many restaurants make their own egg nog over the busy holiday season. Make sure you use pasteurized eggs in any kind of egg nog – this will reduce the risk of illness. If you aren’t sure your eggs are pasteurized, or just want to be on the safe side, you can heat the egg nog to 71 degrees Celsius and then refrigerate it.
3. Don’t get too rushed for food safety
Make sure at least two of your staff on shift have gone through food safety training, especially on busy holiday shifts. Don’t let getting busy trump food safety considerations, such as proper handwashing and storing items properly to avoid cross-contamination.
If you would like to look into food safety training, contact Food Safety market today. We’ve been training servers, managers and cooks on food safety in Canada for years.
We would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season!