RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) encourages all cooks and food handlers to practice food safety when preparing holiday meals this year. As always, the basics of food safety are cleanliness, proper temperature control, thorough cooking, and separation of raw and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination. During the holidays, meals may occur over extended periods of time, which increases the need for careful preparation, serving and storage.
VDACS lists a few safety tips below and encourages everyone involved with holiday food preparation to go to foodsafety.gov for more information:
- Wash your hands, but not your turkey – Always wash hands before cooking, as this is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria. Washing a turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen.
- Do not cross-contaminate. Keep raw and cooked foods and their juices separate at all times. Raw meats should not drip onto other foods in the grocery basket, in grocery bags or in the refrigerator. Marinate meats on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to keep juices from spilling on other foods and do not reuse the marinade. Never use the same plate or utensil for cooked food that was used to prepare or transport the raw product.
- Do not stuff your turkey. For optimal safety, do not stuff the turkey. Even if the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria. Cooking stuffing in a separate dish is safest. If you do cook stuffing in the turkey (not recommended), check its temperature before serving.
- Take the temperature of the bird. Avoid foodborne illness by ensuring the turkey reaches the correct internal temperature of 165º F, as measured by a food thermometer. The internal temperature of other meats should reach the recommended level as shown on an instant-read thermometer; Beef – at least 145° F; Pork – 145° F; Poultry – 165° F. Ground meats should be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 160° F and no pink remains. Leftovers should be reheated to 165° F to kill bacteria that might have multiplied during the cooling process.
- Consider the food safety advantages of a slow cooker. The direct heat from the pot and lengthy cooking time combine to destroy bacteria, making slow cookers a good choice for safely cooking foods.
- Follow the two-hour rule. Do not leave perishable foods at room temperature (on the table or countertops) for longer than two hours. When in doubt, throw it out.
When gathering this holiday season, be sure to comply with the statewide face-covering requirement in indoor public spaces. Virginians are strongly encouraged to wash their hands regularly, maintain six feet of physical distance when outside of the home, limit social gatherings to no more than 25 people from different households, and to get tested immediately if any COVID-19 symptoms are experienced.
–Michael Wallace, VDACS