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Turkey tips and more: How to stay safe during the holidays

Potlucks and many other holiday functions in the workplace, as well as those with family and friends, don't require inspection or licensing. But food safety issues are no less important, says an expert from U-M's Occupational Safety & Environmental Health Department (OSEH), which licenses and monitors all food establishments on campus, including University Housing dining services, restaurants in the Michigan Union and Pierpont Commons, and vendors at athletic events.

"Proper handling, preparing and serving [of] food is especially important when licensed caterers are not serving your meal," says Pam Barker, manager of OSEH's Occupational Safety and Community Health program. "No one wants to spend their holidays recuperating from a foodborne illness. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration provide many simple food safety procedures that can help all of us keep our family, friends and co-workers safe."

• Check refrigerator temperature. Use a thermometer to ensure food in the refrigerator is held safely at 40 degrees or less. Warmer temperatures can encourage bacterial growth and food spoilage.

• Thaw frozen meat and poultry safely in the refrigerator or under cold running water in a sink. Foods also can be thawed in the microwave, but should be thoroughly cooked immediately after thawing. Defrosting any perishable food on the kitchen counter invites bacterial growth on the outer portions of the food before the inside thaws.

• Always wash hands before and after working with food. Use warm soapy water and scrub hands for at least 20 seconds. In addition, hands should be washed after using the toilet, sneezing or nose blowing, playing with a pet, eating or drinking.

• Prevent cross-contamination. Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods. Wash counters, cutting boards and knives before, during and after food preparation. Wipe up meat and poultry drippings with paper towels. Dishrags and sponges can soak up and spread bacteria throughout the kitchen.

• Cook foods to the proper temperature to ensure safety and quality. Holiday turkeys should be cooked to 180 degrees in the inner thigh and 170 degrees in the breast, and the juices should run clear.

• While it is safest to cook stuffing in a separate casserole dish, it can be safe to stuff the turkey cavity loosely as long as the temperature at the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees.

• Keep cold foods cold, below 40 degrees, and hot foods hot, above 140 degrees. Use hot plates, chafers and crock pots to keep hot holiday foods at a safe temperature. Serve smaller quantities of perishable food and replenish from the stove or refrigerator. Keep cold foods chilled by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

• Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of serving. Remove meat from the bone or reduce the leftovers into smaller portions to allow for rapid cooling in the refrigerator or freezer.

• Consume leftovers within a few days. Foods can be kept longer if frozen. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees in less than two hours. Bring gravy to a boil before serving.

• Be sure to clean and sanitize counters, tables and other surfaces in the kitchen after preparing foods. One possible sanitizing solution can be made with one teaspoon of bleach mixed and one quart of water.

For more information about food safety, call OSEH at (734) 647-1143.


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