JEFFERSON CO., N.Y. — There’s no question that this year’s holiday celebrations are going to be different. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise both in our region and across the country, the CDC and local public health officials are cautioning people against getting together with friends or families outside the home. Many are opting for virtual gatherings in place of traditional get-togethers. No matter how you choose to celebrate this season, food will undoubtedly be part of that celebration and food safety is imperative. Whether you are an experienced cook, or still learning, a food safety refresher is an important way to ensure your recipes are not only delicious but also free from the germs that cause foodborne illness. CCE is here to answer all your kitchen questions and point you in the direction of other reliable resources to make all your dishes successful and safe.
According to the CDC, foodborne illness affects about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people), leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths every year. There are four basic rules when it comes to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
CLEAN: Before getting started in the kitchen, it’s always important to ensure that hands, utensils, and food surfaces are properly cleaned and sanitized. For hands, this means washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Surfaces (including tables, countertops, sinks, insides of microwaves, utensils, cutting boards, and appliances) should be washed with hot, soapy water and sanitized regularly with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water to prohibit microbes such as bacteria and viruses from growing. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed under cold running water. Any rough skins or waxy surfaces should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush. Canned items should also be rinsed before opening.
SEPARATE: Keeping raw foods such as meats and seafood separate from fresh produce and other ready-to-eat foods is imperative to prevent cross-contamination. Always use a clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate board for raw seafood, meat, and poultry. For extra precautions during the pandemic, the CDC is also recommending avoiding potluck gatherings and designating one person who is wearing a mask to serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils, salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments. Or choose single-use items when possible.
COOK: All foods should be cooked to their proper temperatures. It is not possible to tell if a food is cooked to temperature just by looking at it. A clean food thermometer must be used and placed in the thickest part of the food (not touching bone, fat, or gristle) to ensure that it is safe to eat. Temperature rules are also important for microwaved foods. Microwaves often cook unevenly and can leave “hot spots” where bacteria can continue to grow, so foods must be stirred, rotated, or flipped often while heating. Once prepared, hot foods should be kept above 140 degrees and cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or below to avoid the danger zone (the range of temps where microbes grow must easily). Foods should never be left out for more than two hours to avoid the danger zone.
CHILL: Make sure your refrigerator is set to 40 degrees or lower and that your freezer is set to 0 degrees. When storing large batches of hot food, place them in small, shallow containers and allow them to cool (for no more than two hours) before sealing with an air-tight lid and placing in the refrigerator or freezer. This will ensure that the internal temp of your fridge or freezer does not rise and jeopardize the safety of the other foods inside. When thawing foods, never leave items on the counter to defrost. Instead, place them in the refrigerator overnight, in cold running water, or microwave right before cooking.
Here are some other safety recommendations this season:
- Limit the number of attendees from outside the home
- Remind everyone to wash their hands before meals
- Wear masks and social distance when engaging with anyone outside the household
- Limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared
- Change and launder linen items immediately after the gathering
For more information, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension at 315-788-8450 or visit these websites:
–Cornell Cooperative Extension Jefferson County
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