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Food safety tips for the holiday season

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) -- Colder weather is settling in and it's time for warm cider, pumpkin spice lattes, deep-fried turkeys and visits from the relatives this holiday season.

Kids love being involved in cooking pies, cookies and other sweet treats, while most of us love to overindulge on all of the fantastic food.

With an overindulgence of foods like turkey, ham and potato salad, folks should be mindful of ways to keep food safe.

Here are some tips to ensure your holiday season stays joyful and merry:

- Wash your hands. Possibly one of the easiest ways to prevent a foodborne illness is to keep your hands clean. Ensure you wash your hands prior to handling food, in between different tasks, after using the restroom, and after touching something such as you nose, hair, face, or pets. You should wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds to minimize cross contamination.

- Clean and sanitize food contact surfaces. Counters, cutting boards, knives, and other dishes should be washed after each use and prior to being used for a different food item. Keep in mind that cloth rags can harbor bacteria if not properly cleaned; therefore, you can use paper towels with a homemade sanitizing solution (one capful of bleach per a gallon of water) to clean surfaces as needed.

- Keep foods separated. Along with using separate utensils, foods should also be physically separated. Raw meats should go on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator, below any ready-to-eat foods. Foods should also be prepared on separate areas of the counter.

- Invest in a food thermometer. Improper temperatures are a major factor in bacterial growth in food, which can lead to a foodborne illness.

Temperature matters:

- Proper holding temperatures. Cold foods should be kept at 41 degrees or below and hot food should be kept at 135 degrees or above.

- Don't overfill your refrigerator. Holidays means company which means a lot of food. Too much food in your refrigerator can lessen air circulation and slow down cooling.

- Properly cook foods to the right temperature. Don't rely on the color of meats to determine doneness. Typically, chicken-based foods should be cooked to 165 degrees for 15 seconds. Beef-based foods should be cooked to 155 degrees for 15 seconds, with the exception of ground beef, which should be cooked to 165 degrees for 15 seconds. Pork and egg products should be cooked to 145 degrees for 15 seconds. When in doubt cook your food to 165 degrees for 15 seconds. Use a thermometer to make sure foods reach the right temperature to kill bacteria.

- All leftovers should be cooked thoroughly to at least 165 degrees for 15 seconds. If using a microwave, stir the food regularly for even heating.

- After cooking, you are sure to have leftovers. Use shallow pans to help the food cool quicker and stir regularly, if possible. Food should be cooled to 70 degrees within two hours and then to 41 degrees within four hours after that.

- Properly defrost the turkey. The sheer size of a turkey makes it a chore to thaw. When thawing a turkey, it will take 24 hours per five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. Do not let the turkey sit out on the counter as the outside will thaw quickly and begin to gather bacteria while the inside stays firmly frozen. Another option is to buy the turkey fresh.

- Thoroughly cook all eggs and egg products. Eggs are a yummy treat around the holidays. Whether you are eating cookies, deviled eggs, or drinking eggnog, you are likely to come across this food item. Make sure you and your family are not eating raw or undercooked eggs. Look out for ready-to-cook cookie dough as it could have raw eggs.

This time of year is meant for happiness and family. Just make sure you keep safety on your mind and enjoy all of that holiday food as you sit around the fireplace with friends and family. Happy holidays! 
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