Why is food safety important?
During the winter and summer, there are plenty of opportunities to gather with friends and co-workers. Usually these events are centered around meals. Potlucks, cookouts, buffet dinners, church events and catered meals offer times to spread good cheer. The Orange County Health Department warns that these events can also be opportunities to spread illness. Food borne outbreaks can happen at any occasion and at any time, but the holiday meals can be a recipe for disaster if hosts and those who prepare food don't follow smart food safety practices.
Some Bacteria Basics
Did you know that bacteria need food, warmth, oxygen and moisture to survive? “Bacteria are everywhere but a few types especially like to crash parties. Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Listeria monocytogenes frequent people's hands and steam tables. And unlike microorganisms that cause food to spoil, harmful or pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted,” warns the Food and Drug Administration.
What are good temperature controls?
- Keep hot foods hot (at 140˚F or hotter) and cold foods cold (at 40˚F or colder) - Buffet items may require heated pans or ice trays to maintain proper temperatures
- Throw out food held over 2 hours at room temperature
- Heat foods quickly – do not put cold or frozen food in a crock pot without first heating to at least 170˚F
- Cool foods quickly – separate bulk foods into small/shallow containers, or use an ice bath to cool foods quickly
- Large food portions should be divided into smaller dishes before refrigerated
- Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked thoroughly (internal temperatures):
- Poultry – 165˚F
- Ground Beef – 155˚F
- Pork - 150˚F
- Beef – 130˚F - 145˚F
- Leftovers – 165˚F
How can I keep things clean?
- Wash hands and serving areas thoroughly and often
- Clean cutting boards, sponges, and utensils thoroughly, especially when switching to a new food item
- Avoid cross contamination by keeping foods separated during preparation especially meats and raw vegetables
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and keep them refrigerated if possible
How should I handle food?
The responsibility for the health of your guests may just be in your hands. Whether you are hosting a holiday function or are a guest who brings a dish, please keep these food tips in mind:
- Select food items that are fresh and within date
- Go straight home from the grocery: Perishables shouldn’t sit in the car and refrigerate within 2 hours of purchase
- Raw meat juices may leak from packaging. Wrap and store meats away from foods typically served uncooked (fruits/vegetables).
- Be wary of egg nog or other foods containing uncooked eggs, especially if they are not kept refrigerated (Look for pasteurized eggs at the grocery store)
- Thaw foods in the refrigerator and plan ahead - an average turkey can take up to 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator
Where can I find more information?
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Food Safety
- Centers for Disease Control
- NC Cooperative Extension - Food Safety
- US Department of Agriculture