As the holidays approach, most minds will become focused on that special meal. But food safety and portion control should also be high on the list of priorities for this time of year.
The holidays are the time of year when turkey can be found on tables around the country. Without careful preparation, that traditional favorite can become a food safety nightmare.
Wenqing Xu, LSU AgCenter food safety specialist, said a few things should be kept in mind when preparing holiday dinners.
“When preparing to cook a turkey, remember that you won’t be able to get up on Thanksgiving morning and take the bird from frozen to ready to cook,” she said. “It’s best to start a few days out by thawing the turkey in the refrigerator.”
When thawing the turkey, make sure that you have room on a lower shelf so the juices don’t drip onto and contaminate other food. Use a secondary pan as further insurance.
The key to a safe holiday meal can be summed up in four words: separate, clean, cook and chill.
Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination and clean contact surfaces, utensils and especially your hands, Xu said.
She also said to separate cutting boards, serving dishes and utensils used for raw food from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination.
Be sure to use a food thermometer to ensure the bird is cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
“Refrigerate leftovers in small, shallow containers,” Xu said. Leftovers should be put away within two hours of cooking.
An online video has more information.
In addition to the meats that will be served, always keep in mind the benefits of adding a variety of vegetables, said AgCenter nutritionist Sandra May.
“There are really no bad vegetables, but it is possible to make them bad by what we add to them,” May said.
Be careful when it comes to portion size during the holidays. It’s easy to take in too many calories when sampling the different dishes on the table, she said.
“If you just have to try some of Aunt Martha’s cake and Aunt Beth’s pie, just take a small piece of each to keep within your calorie goals,” May said.