After two hours of sitting out, your favorite holiday dishes can become bacterial breeding grounds
For many, our favorite comfort foods are a highlight of Thanksgiving. While spending time with loved ones and recalling our blessings bring meaning to the holiday, most of us agree it just wouldn't be the same without the turkey dinner.
But just like every rose has its thorn, every delicious holiday meal has its potential for Clostridium perfringens.
According to the Centers for Disease control, Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. But what does it have to do with your tried and true holiday meal plans?
Quite a bit, actually.
Meat and poultry account for 92% of Clostridium perfringens outbreaks due to a single food source, and outbreaks happen to soar during November and December.
Fortunately, proper food handling can keep bacteria like this at bay. But Clostridium perfringens isn't the only concern when dealing with the preparation, serving and storage of a holiday meal. After all, many of us are working with 20 pounds of raw poultry while also tending to mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies.
However, by avoiding five common food handling mistakes, you can be confident that the meal you serve at your next holiday gathering is both delicious and safe.
Common Holiday Food Preparation & Handling Mistakes
Mistake 1: Leaving a turkey out to thaw at room temperature for more than two hours. This gives its temperature a chance to creep into danger zones where bacteria can rapidly grow. The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure that meat juices do not drip onto other food. If it’s the morning of the meal and your turkey still needs to defrost, thaw it in a sink of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes.
Mistake 2: Skimping on scrubbing between jobs. Raw poultry can contain bacteria that can easily spread to anything it touches. After handling the turkey or any raw meat, wash your hands, utensils and any surfaces it touched thoroughly with hot, soapy water before moving on to other meal prep.
Mistake 3: Leaving the thermometer in the drawer. Follow all baking instructions for both the turkey and the stuffing, using your thermometer to make sure both reach the desired temperatures (165°F internal temperature for all poultry). Otherwise, you may be allowing harmful bacteria to survive the baking process.
Mistake 4: Letting hot food cool off and cool food warm up. Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. If they're going to sit out for a bit, keep cold dishes cold (40°F or colder) and hot dishes hot (at 140 °F or above) to stop bacteria growth.
Mistake 5: Grazing on leftovers into the next week. Use cooked leftovers within four days, reheating them to 165°F. If you don't thinking you're going to consume it within the next 3-4 days, wrap tightly and freeze it.
"With a little consideration for safe food practices, you can help ensure your guests go home with only a satisfied appetite,” said Laura Holverson, Monroe Clinic dietitian.