Healthy holidays from the kitchen
The holiday cooking season is heavenlyand hazardous. Tasty platters of turkey, stuffing, and treats come with countless opportunities to spread foodborne illnesses. Kitchen mistakes cause almost 25% of food-sickness outbreaks, says Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, a nonprofit food-safety organization. Here, how to keep your kitchen risk-free for festive timesor anytime.
A quick pass under cold water doesn’t cut it when washing your hands, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a nutrition professor at Boston University. “Use soap and hot water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds.” Wash when you start cooking and whenever you switch between types of food prep, whether it’s from potatoes to carrots or poultry to parsley. “All foods are susceptible to cross-contamination,” Blake says.
Obey the thaw laws
Never thaw food, especially meat, on a counter. While the insides will take hours to defrost, the outsides will warm to room temperature too quickly, which allows bacteria to thrive. Instead, thaw foods in a pan in the fridge. For turkey, allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds. And remember to cook the entire bird to 180°—check the temperature with a thermometer!
Perishable food that sits out at room temperature (usually 64° to 80°) should be tossed after two hours to prevent a bacteria-population explosion, Blake says. That means big buffet platters are danger zones. Try serving smaller portions and refilling as needed with backup platters from the fridge or oven. Put hot dishes in chafing dishes or slow cookers that can stay at or above 140°.
Pack leftovers in small, shallow containers instead of one big one so they’ll cool more evenly and won’t warm up your fridge. The fridge temp should be 40° or below; keep a stick-on thermometer ($12.99) inside, and check it weekly. And as leftovers mount up, organize your fridge so the most perishable foods go in back. “They’ll stay cold even on days when you’re opening and closing the fridge nonstop,” Blake says.
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Clean up your cleanup
How can you detox your kitchen tools and counters without dangerous chemicals? In a quart-size spray bottle, combine water, freshly squeezed lemon, and 1 teaspoon nonchlorine bleach; then mist countertops. Try Seventh Generation Free and Clear Chlorine-Free Bleach ($5.29). And replace old sponges, a breeding ground for bacteria, with new ones that have smooth surfaces (making them less likely to harbor food and bacteria); keep them germ-free by tossing in the dishwasher every time you run it.