Potluck meals are a fun, low-cost way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. They are also linked with the spread of foodborne illness. Follow these tips to keep food safe:
If you or someone in your home has “stomach flu” or symptoms of a foodborne illness, don’t prepare food.
Don’t mix salads, such as potato or a tossed lettuce salad, with your bare hands. Use utensils or wear gloves instead.
To keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower), remove items from the refrigerator just before leaving home and put them in a cooler with ice or a freezer gel pack. Remove hot food items from the oven or cooktop and place in containers such as insulated bags to keep foods hot (140°F or above).
To prevent cross-contamination, cover your car seat with a clean sheet or large towel before placing the food container on it and don’t transport food with animals in your car.
Thaw your turkey safely: Plan ahead, since thawing may take days in the refrigerator. Do NOT thaw it on the counter, in a bathtub, on the porch, or in the garage.
Handle your turkey safely: Before touching the turkey, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Do not wash or rinse the turkey. This may spread poultry juice to other foods and lead to foodborne illness. Use a clean cutting board. Wash the board with warm soapy water after use and before preparing the next item.
Cook your turkey safely: Set oven temperature to at least 325°F. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Find cooking times at USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, bit.ly/3kZeP6D. Use a food thermometer to check in at least two of the thickest parts of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. After cooking, the turkey should rest for 20 minutes to let juices settle.
Chill your turkey safely: Divide leftovers into small portions and refrigerate or freeze within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within 3–4 days and frozen cooked turkey in 2–6 months for best quality. For more Thanksgiving-friendly food safety tips, visit FoodSafety. gov, bit.ly/3A55oqt.
Canning apple pie filling requires Clear-Jel. This is the only thickener that holds up to canning. It is not available in stores but you can purchase it online. Do not substitute Instant Clear-Jel or any other thickener for home-canned pie filling.
You can pressure-can squash and pumpkin safely if you cut them in cubes. However, you cannot safely puree squash and pumpkin. The density of the pureed squash/pumpkin can prevent adequate heat processing, even in a pressure canner.
There are no tested recipes for home-canned pumpkin butter. You can freeze pumpkin butter or store it in the refrigerator.
Vegetables are part of a healthy diet. However, they can also be a source of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Use these food safety tips to protect yourself and your family.
Always wash hands with soap and water before you start to prepare vegetables.
Use clean equipment, including cutting board and knives.
Wash all produce even if the skin will be peeled. If a produce item is labeled ready to eat, washing is not recommended and could increase risk of illness.
Wash produce under running water. A scrub brush can help in cleaning produce. Soap and vegetable rinses are not necessary. If soaking is required to loosen dirt, make sure to finish by rinsing under cool or warm running water.
August is “back to school” time. Does your child bring a lunch from home? When packing school lunches, it’s important to consider food safety. First, wash your insulated lunch box or bag with warm water and soap. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds prior to preparing foods. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. Preparing and freezing sandwiches the night before is a time saver. Don’t freeze sandwiches that contain tomato, cucumber, or lettuce. Pack your lunch bags right before leaving home.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags help keep food cold, but pack at least two ice sources with perishable food in any lunch bag you use. You can use a frozen juice box or bottle of water rather than a frozen gel pack. When packing your bag lunch, place the frozen ice source above and below the perishable food items to keep them cold.
Want more information? Check out Freezing Sandwiches, https://food. unl.edu/fnh/freezing-sandwiches.
It is important to cut and store watermelon and other fruit properly for quality and safety. First, begin by washing your hands. You should also wash the outside of watermelon or other fruit using a vegetable brush and cool water. Bacteria lingering on the outer surface of fruit, like watermelon, can transfer into the fruit when cutting.
Cut your melon this way:
Cut off the ends, to provide a fat base.
Place the knife where the white rind meets the red flesh. Following the curve of the fruit, cut off the rind.
Cut the whole watermelon into disks, with the width of the disks being the same width you want the diced cubes to be.
With the disks facing down, cut same size strips in both directions, “dicing” the melon.
The ISU Extension and Outreach website Spend Smart. Eat Smart. also has a video called How to Cut a Melon, blogs.extension.iastate.edu/spendsmart, showing how to cut and prepare melon. Store watermelon at 40°F or lower in the refrigerator. Bacteria can grow in cut melon that is held at higher temperatures.
Many Americans throw away perfectly good food due to label confusion. This contributes 398,000 tons of food waste each year. “Best by” labels indicate when the manufacturer believes the food should be used for best quality, NOT food safety. “Use by” and “sell by” dates are similar for shelf stable foods; these dates tend to reflect quality, not food safety. However, “use by” and “sell by” dates on refrigerated items do indicate when the food may begin to spoil. Don’t use refrigerated foods that are past the “use-by” or “sell-by” date. If a food product is nearing the indicated date, you may be able to freeze it to extend its life.
When cooking and serving meals outdoors, remember to make food safety part of your planning. Keep these two guidelines in mind:
Don’t Cross Contaminate
When marinating food for grilling, refrigerate during the marinade process.
Keep your raw fish, meat, and poultry away from any cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
Have a clean plate to carry food to and from the grill.
Wash and sanitize all surfaces and utensils after they have been in contact with raw fish, meat, or poultry.
Be sure to have an extra clean utensil to remove cooked food from the grill.
2. Use a Food Thermometer
Experienced cooks may think they know when food is done just by looking at it, but this may not be the case. Burgers can turn brown before they are fully cooked. Germs that cause foodborne illness are not killed until a safe internal temperature is reached. This is where a food thermometer comes in. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know your food is done and safe to eat.
Using a food thermometer ensures food is cooked to a safe temperature. You can’t rely on the color or texture of a food to determine if it’s safely cooked. For example, ground beef may turn brown before it reaches a temperature that kills germs. A hamburger cooked to 160°F is safe regardless of color. Use a food thermometer to make sure cold food is at or below 40°F and hot food is at or above 140°F.
One in six people get food poisoning—also known as a foodborne illness—every year in the United States. Young children, pregnant women, and older adults have a higher risk of foodborne illness.
Pregnant women are at high risk for listeriosis, a type of foodborne illness that causes miscarriage. Lower the risk by doing the following:
Cook meat, seafood, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
Do not eat cold deli meats or hot dogs. Heat sliced deli meats and hot dogs to 165°F or until steaming.
Avoid raw bean sprouts, unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
Adults ages 60 years and older are at higher risk for foodborne illness because the immune system weakens with age. Likewise, young children are at higher risk because their immune systems haven’t fully developed yet.
Keep everyone safe by following these food safety practices.
Clean: Wash your hands thoroughly. Clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces.
Separate: Keep raw meats apart from other foods that may be eaten without cooking, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cook: Cook foods to the correct temperature. Use this handout on food thermometers, bit.ly/2YXooHu, for more information.
Chill: Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than two hours.