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Tips for safely preparing food and eating during the holidays

Following simple guidelines can cut down on illnesses

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 21, 2014) — Holidays are usually a time for gathering with friends and family — and plenty of eating.

The Department for Public Health (DPH) wants the public to keep safe food preparation and handling practices in mind during the holidays.

turkeyMany holiday dinners incorporate meat and poultry, which are possible sources of foodborne disease — a serious public health concern that is more common than many people may realize. In fact, one in six Americans will get a foodborne illness this year.

“This holiday season, DPH urges consumers to take precautions in purchasing and preparing food items and to pay close attention to good hygiene practices,” said Mark Reed, manager of DPH’s food safety branch. “The principles of food safety should be observed by everyone — restaurants, caterers and the home cook preparing a family meal. By following a few simple guidelines, you will be keeping yourself and others from being exposed to dangerous germs that can lead to illness.”

Holiday buffets, party trays or even a poorly stored turkey could be the culprit when it comes to disease. Improperly stored or handled food items provide breeding grounds for bacterial contamination, exposing diners to diseases such as salmonella, E. coli infection or botulism, among others.

“Foodborne illness is a serious public health concern that can have debilitating — and sometimes life-threatening  effects,” said Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, DPH commissioner. “Please remember to follow our recommended steps for food storage and preparation this holiday season.”

Public Health recommends the following guidelines for safe food preparation, serving and storage.

Tips for shopping:

  • Make room for items in your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, seafood and poultry. And, keep all food away from household chemicals in your shopping cart and in bags.
  • Refrigerate perishable foods as soon as you get them home from the store.
  • Pay attention to “sell by” and “use by” dates.
  • Buy a food thermometer and use it faithfully to ensure that the recommended cook temperatures are met.

Tips for preparing a feast:

  • Wash hands, surfaces and utensils between each food-prep step.
  • Thaw frozen turkey in a refrigerator in its original packaging, using the formula: four pounds per 24 hours.
  • Cook turkey breast and stuffing to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Turkey thighs are best at 175 degrees F.
  • Keep hot foods above 140 degrees F.  Refrigerate all cold foods at 40 degrees F or lower until ready to serve.
  • Rinse fresh fruit and vegetables just before serving or consuming unless labeled “ready-to-eat” or “prewashed.”

Tips for leftovers:

  • Leftovers cool more quickly in shallow containers. Bring gravy to a boil before re-serving.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F.
  • Eat or freeze leftovers within three to four days.
  • Eat or freeze gravy within two days.