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DeKalb County Offers Food Safety Tips for Holiday Parties, Buffets

Keep this next to you in the kitchen.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a popular way to celebrate the holidays is to invite friends and family to a buffet. To ensure holiday parties run smoothly, here are some suggestions to keep foods safe on a buffet.

As you host holiday buffets, it is important to be extra careful to keep foods safe from harmful microorganisms. There are four things you should remember during these festive times: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill:

  • To help prevent the spread of bacteria or viruses, wash your hands and work surfaces often.
  • Raw meats should be kept separate from foods that are cooked or foods that can be eaten raw.
  • To kill bacteria, cook foods to proper temperatures. Food thermometers are very useful in knowing when food has reached a safe temperature. Keep hot foods hot on the serving table.
  • Refrigerate foods prepared ahead quickly and keep cold foods on ice for serving.

It is also important to keep foods safe on a buffet by maintaining the proper temperature. Hot foods should be held at 140°F or above and cold foods should be at 40°F or below. The range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F is known as the danger zone and is where harmful food borne bacteria grow most rapidly.  To keep foods hot, serve them in chafing dishes, slow cookers or on the stove top. Cold foods can be kept at safe temperatures by nesting their containers in bowls of ice. If it is not possible to use these hot or cold holding methods, serve the food on small platters that will be replaced frequently. Never mix old food with new. Be sure to check the internal temperature of the food often with a calibrated food thermometer. If the food stays in the danger zone for more than two hours it should be discarded.

Make sure to keep food that you are bringing to a party out of the danger zone, as you do not know how long it will sit out at the party. To transport cold foods, wrap them tightly and place them in an insulated cooler with ice or freezer-gel packs. Hot foods can be kept warm by wrapping them in warm towels and placing in an insulated cooler, transporting them in a preheated slow cooker that is wrapped in warm towels, or in a casserole dish with an insulated carrying case. Casserole dishes are readily available and usually consist of a glass baking dish, an insulated carrying case and a hot-pack insert that is heated in the microwave. The food should be hot from the oven as it is placed into the bag.

Most importantly, remember when potentially hazardous foods are left out for more than two hours, they should be thrown out.

How can I keep my work areas clean and not cross-contaminate food?

To start with, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds under warm running warm. Clean surfaces with paper towels and hot soapy water and a sanitizing solution (one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water). (Sponges and dish cloths often carry and spread bacteria.) If you use cloth towels, change them often and change them immediately if used to wipe up spills. Wash cooking utensils such as knives, spoons, cutting boards, etc. and surface areas after each use. It is especially important to do this after working with raw meats.

What are proper temperatures for cooking and chilling food?

Ground beef should be cooked to at least 160º F, roasts and steaks to at least 145º F for medium rare and 160º F for medium. Whole poultry is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F in all parts, as measured with a food thermometer.  Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  For reasons of personal preference about “doneness,” consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures such as 180° F.

When reheating leftovers, remember that they should reach 165º F. For chilling, your refrigerator should be set at 38-40º F and your freezer at 0º F or below. You can check these temperatures with an appliance thermometer. To chill foods quickly, divide them into shallow containers and place in the refrigerator immediately. A food thermometer can be used to measure the temperature of cold foods to be sure they are 40º F or below.

How can I keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold?

Serving food in small amounts at a time will help. Have your meat or other heated food divided into two or more pans. While serving one, keep the other hot (at or above 140 °F) in the oven. Warming dishes and slow cookers can be used to keep foods hot during service. The same principle can be applied to chilled foods and the refrigerator. Have several bowls of the same food so the entire dish can be replaced as needed. Another option is to keep cold foods cold by putting the serving dishes in bowls of ice. Remember to throw out foods that have been at room temperature for more than two hours. Now you can safely enjoy the holiday season and tasty food without worrying about food borne illnesses.

For more information on properly serving and storing holiday foods, please contact the DeKalb Cooperative Extension at (404) 298-4080.

This article was provided by the extension.

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