Holiday Cooking and Food Safety

Charles Cohlmia, MPH
Communicable Disease Prevention and Public Health Preparedness Division Manager
Jackson County Health Department

The bacteria Clostridium perfringens grows in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours after eating.

• Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December.
• Many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.

"Danger Zone" (40 °F - 140 °F) Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.
Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the "Danger Zone."

Keep Food Out of the "Danger Zone" Never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.

• Keep hot food hot—at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers.
• Keep cold food cold—at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.

Cooking
Raw meat and poultry should always be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. When roasting meat and poultry, use an oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. If you aren't going to serve hot food right away, it's important to keep it at 140 °F or above.

Storing Leftovers
One of the most common causes of foodborne illness is improper cooling of cooked foods. Bacteria can be reintroduced to food after it is safely cooked. For this reason, leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated at 40 °F or below within two hours.

  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Refrigerate leftover foods at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparations.
  • It’s OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for three to four days at most. Freeze leftovers if you won’t be eating them soon.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F before serving. This includes leftovers warmed up in the microwave.

Reheating
Foods should be reheated thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming. In the microwave oven, cover food and rotate so it heats evenly.

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