November 23rd, 2006 04:34 EST
This Holiday Season - FDA Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illness
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages consumers to pay special attention to the handling and preparation of foods during the upcoming holiday season. Keep in mind that the elderly, children, and individuals with weakened immune systems – including pregnant women – are especially at risk of foodborne illnesses.
Because the holidays present special food safety challenges, precautions are necessary in handling, cooking, and refrigerating foods. To help ensure that holiday foods are not only delicious but also safe, FDA suggests taking these steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses:
- Clean: Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, and counter tops.
- Separate: Don't cross-contaminate: Don't let bacteria spread from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Experts caution to keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook: Cook to a safe internal temperature. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of foods.
- Chill: Refrigerate promptly to keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.
Be careful to keep your holiday foods chilled properly. Keep these foods refrigerated:
- Cream pies, cakes with whipped-cream and cream cheese frostings, and other creamy desserts.
- Cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, seafood, or dairy products. Quiches and soufflés, especially if you aren't serving them immediately.
Tips for Fresh Produce
For many families, salads, vegetable dishes and fruit are an important part of holiday meals and entertaining.
- Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
- When selecting fresh cut produce—such as a half a watermelon or bagged mixed salad greens—choose only those items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood when packing them to take home from the market.
- Certain perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) can be best maintained by storing in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. If you aren’t sure whether an item should be refrigerated to maintain quality, ask your grocer.
- All produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated within two hours to maintain both quality and safety.
- Begin preparing produce with clean hands. Wash hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If so, it will be stated on the packaging. This pre-washed, bagged produce can be used without further washing. As an extra measure of caution, you can wash the produce again just before you use it. Precut or pre-washed produce in open bags should be washed before using.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
- All unpackaged fruits and vegetables, as well as those packaged and not marked pre-washed, should be thoroughly washed before eating. This includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or produce from a grocery store or farmer's market. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
- Even if the produce will be peeled before eating, it is still important to wash it first.
- Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
- Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush under running water.
- Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.
Separate for Safety
Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood - and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
In addition, be sure to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot water and soap between the preparation of raw meat, poultry and seafood products and the preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
- For added protection, kitchen sanitizers can be used on cutting boards and counter tops periodically. Try a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.
- If plastic or other non-porous cutting boards are used, run them through the dishwasher after use.
FDA advises consumers not to eat uncooked cookie dough, homemade or commercial, or batters made with raw fresh eggs because raw fresh eggs may contain bacteria that can cause an intestinal infection called salmonellosis. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria that cause the infection. If any holiday recipes call for raw or lightly-cooked eggs, you can:
- Use store-bought products of the foods listed above, which are often already cooked or pasteurized (but check the label to be sure).
- Purchase pasteurized eggs. These eggs are heat-processed to kill harmful bacteria. They can be found in some supermarkets and are labeled "pasteurized." Here are several types consumers can buy:
- Pasteurized eggs in the shell (found in the refrigerator section).
- Liquid, pasteurized egg products (found in the refrigerator section).
- Frozen, pasteurized egg products (found in the frozen food section).
- Powdered egg whites (found in the baking section).
Traditional eggnog made with raw eggs may also present the same risk to consumers -- salmonellosis. While cooking can destroy the disease-causing bacteria, consumers can still become ill when the eggnog is left at room temperature for several hours before being consumed. Safe alternatives are pasteurized eggnog beverages sold in grocery dairy cases; these products should be kept refrigerated.
Apple cider and other juices:
Apple cider is often served during the holiday season. Apple cider and most juices are pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. Some pasteurized juice can be found in the refrigerated or frozen sections of stores. Pasteurized or treated juice is often shelf-stable and is normally found in the non-refrigerated juice section of stores. It's packaged in boxes, bottles, or cans. Unpasteurized or untreated juice is normally found in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores, health-food stores, cider mills or farm markets. Such juices must have this warning on the label:
WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore, may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.
If you can't tell whether a juice has been processed to destroy harmful bacteria, either don't use the product or boil it to kill any harmful bacteria.
Thawing the turkey completely before cooking is important and necessary to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. If a turkey is not properly thawed, the outside of the turkey will be done before the inside, and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria. Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw and cook a whole turkey. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator at a temperature of no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A stuffed turkey needs 4 ¼ to 5 ¾ hours to cook completely.
To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the turkey but not touching bone. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Oysters and Seafood Safety:
It's always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. If, however, you choose to eat raw fish, one rule of thumb is to eat fish that has been previously frozen prior to purchase. Commercial freezing techniques can kill many harmful parasites found in some raw fish. Be aware, however, that freezing doesn't kill all harmful microorganisms. That's why the safest route is to cook all seafood.
Keep in mind that some people are at greater risk for foodborne illness and should not eat raw or partially cooked fish or shellfish. These susceptible groups include: pregnant women, young children, older adults, persons whose immune systems are compromised, and persons who have decreased stomach acidity.
Some oysters are treated for safety after they are harvested. That information may or may not be on the label. However, these oysters should still not be eaten raw by people who are at greater risk for foodborne illness. The post-harvest treatment eliminates some naturally occurring pathogens, but it does not remove all pathogens that cause illness.
Tips for Mail-Order Food Gifts:
- Make sure the food is frozen solid or refrigerator cold.
- Use an insulated cooler or a heavy corrugated box packed with a frozen gel-pack, or purchase dry ice for keeping food cold.
- Alert the recipient ahead of time and set a mutually-agreeable delivery date.
- Properly label the package: "Perishable - Keep Refrigerated," on the outside, and provide a complete mailing address and phone number to ensure proper delivery. Ship your package by overnight delivery.
If food is sent via a mail-order company, be sure to specify overnight delivery, and request that the company supply a frozen gel-pack or dry ice in the packaging. This will help ensure that the food will arrive at your destination firm and refrigerator cold.
- Open the package upon arrival.
- Make sure the food is still refrigerator cold.
- Immediately refrigerate or freeze the food.
- If perishable food doesn't arrive cold, don't eat it, and notify the shipper immediately.
Note: Remember, it's the shipper's responsibility to deliver perishable foods on time, but it's the customer's responsibility to have someone at home to receive the package. See information about FDA's prior notice policy for sending gifts to your friends and family.
Additional resources for consumers are available at the following websites and toll-free telephone numbers:
- FDA's Food Information Line, toll-free 1-888-SAFEFOOD (1-888-723-3366)
- The Fight BAC! Web site www.fightbac.org
- The USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-800-535-4555 (202-720-3333 in the Washington, D.C., metro area). The TTY number for the hearing impaired is 1-800-256-7072. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.