Published on 12/06/07

Safe dishes are prepared by safe cooks

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Cooking and sharing meals with loved ones is a traditional part of the holiday season. But don’t forget to take care of the leftovers, or you could invite foodborne illnesses to your holiday party, says a University of Georgia food safety expert.

"It's great to spend time with family members after a holiday dinner. Just take the time to put away food dishes first," said Michael Doyle, director of the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Ga.

Refrigerate or freeze holiday meals within two hours of serving them, he said. Refrigerators should be set at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Freezers should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

"Temperatures are critical when it comes to keeping food safely stored and cooking food," Doyle said. "Many home refrigerators are way out of the safe zone of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. A refrigerator set at 50 degrees Fahrenheit is what we microbiologists call an incubator. That's where we grow bacteria for research."

Whether you're making leftover ham or turkey dishes, be sure to reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, Doyle said.

After four days, though, leftovers should be eaten, frozen or thrown away, he said.

“Americans like to share food along with their good times and celebrations. But without using proper handling rules, you could share foodborne illness with your family and friends," said Elizabeth Andress, a food safety specialist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

She offers these tips for proper food handling:

* Wash your hands before and during food preparation.

* Defrost frozen meats, poultry and fish inside your refrigerator or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and thoroughly cook food immediately after defrosting in a microwave.

* Clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces after exposure to raw meats, poultry, fish or eggs.

* Cook ground beef and other meats, poultry and eggs thoroughly.

* To store food, divide into smaller quantities that will cool quickly.

* Transport food in insulated carriers designed for hot or cold foods. Keep hot foods above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.