6 steps to stay safe when cooking for a crowd
Smart ways to safely cook large amounts of food this holiday season
For many of us, food is one way we celebrate holidays. Because we’re preparing so many different foods – and so much of it – for different amounts of time at various temperatures, it can be challenging to follow smart food safety practices.
Technical Manager of UL Everclean Mike Haller, a registered environmental
health specialist, offers six steps to help ensure that your holiday gatherings
don’t run afoul.
1. Plan ahead.
holiday party almost always revolves around huge amounts of food,” Haller said.
“Planning, even when and how you do your grocery shopping, is important. Pick
up nonperishable foods first. Then load your cart with the perishables last,
because you’ll have to wait in line and drive home. That way you can keep perishables
cold for as long as possible.”
a whole turkey or other especially large cuts of meat ahead of time, as it will
take time to thaw.
2. Clean your hands often.
“Wash your hands before handling food, then if you handle any
raw food product, wash again,” Haller said. “Wash your hands after you use the
bathroom, pet the cat or dog, take out the garbage, sneeze or cough; basically,
any time you think you’ve contaminated your hands.”
are good, but should not replace proper hand washing with soap and water,
Haller said, which is the golden standard for food safety.
3. Prevent cross contamination from raw meat.
Raw meat easily can cross contaminate other surfaces through
many different methods.
One way is through the thawing of a turkey or other large cut
of meat, which
can fill the sink, causing bacteria droplets to splash about. Haller advised
people to thaw meat in the fridge, which can take several days for whole
turkeys or hams. If you do thaw it in the sink, know that this
requires care, Haller said. The water needs to be changed every 30 minutes,
according to the U.S. Centers for
(CDC), or, better yet, use running water.
important part of preventing cross contamination is to frequently wash countertops
and other kitchen surfaces. Consider using a little bit of bleach diluted in
water, Haller said.
one small capful of bleach per gallon of water,” Haller advised.
sure to use different cutting board for each raw meat in order to prevent cross
contamination. Never use a cutting board that had raw meat on it for another
food, the CDC
until it has been thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water, rinsed, then
sanitized with a bleach solution.
said that one of the biggest holiday cooking safety culprits is the sponge,
which can spread contamination.
uses, microwave the sponge for one minute to kill any bacteria,” Haller said. “It’s
hot when it comes out, so be careful.”
foods to the right temperature.
your food thermometer to determine the internal temperature.
not guess,” Haller said. “You can invest in a good food thermometer for less
than $20. It should have a range from 0 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which will
give you an accurate reading for cold and hot foods.”
Internal temperatures should be:
- 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry products and stuffing products
- 145 degrees Fahrenheit for a whole ham, steaks or eggs
- 155 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats
cookie dough and eggnog: Don’t eat raw dough or anything with raw egg
products because of the possibility of Salmonella poisoning. Look for eggnog that has been
“Even though I have problems with the cookie dough rule myself, I’ve learned to use pasteurized eggs in the dough that I’m going to eat,” Haller said. “Or, you can eat the shelf stable cookie dough that has been pasteurized.”
He added: “Be careful if you’re making your own eggnog. Don’t
serve what you make to the elderly, kids or immunocompromised people.”
serve other foods with uncooked eggs, such as tiramisu,
hollandaise sauce and Caesar dressing, to those vulnerable populations.
5. Chill food properly.
Food is only supposed to sit out for two hours after cooking,
including the time spent sitting down to eat. This includes most baked/cooked desserts, which
should be kept in the fridge unless they’re cooling after baking or you’re
“When preparing leftovers, slice it into smaller portions,” Haller said. “This will allow it to cool.”More tips on keeping leftovers safe and delicious can be found here.
More tips on keeping leftovers safe and delicious can be found here.
6. Heat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
major contributing factor in food poisoning is improperly heated leftovers,
of what the food is, it needs to be rapidly reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit,”
he said. “Use your food thermometer to check. Don’t guess.”
tips will help keep your food safe this holiday season, even if you’re cooking
for crowds. Remember, it’s all in preparing ahead of time. Plan how to shop efficiently,
know how long to cook various foods and how to balance preparation and cooking,
and then follow good food safety hygiene practices.