Cooking for holiday crowds:Keep food safety in mind

Cooking for holiday crowds:Keep food safety in mind One key to a festive atmosphere in cooking for holiday crowds is serving safe food, a South Dakota State University specialist said.

Joan Hegerfeld, SDSU Extension's interim food safety and nutrition specialist, said that makes it essential to incorporate safe food handling practices in your plans at each step of the way.

Here are some tips:

Use caution with appetizers and dishes that by nature support bacterial growth and are considered potential-risk foods. These foods tend to come from meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products, and eggs.

They also tend to be moist and have to be kept hot or cold. As a general rule, keep foods out of the "danger zone" (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit) and discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours.

When purchasing, buy cold foods last. If traveling home is more than 30 minutes, bring a

cooler with ice to place perishables in. When transporting and storing, keep the juices from raw meat, poultry and fish away from other foods that

are ready to eat.

Raw meat, poultry and fish should be stored in containers in the refrigerator to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. "One drop of poultry juice onto a cheese tray or Waldorf salad can easily take the 'festive' out of your holiday

party," Hegerfeld said.

Use a food thermometer to take the guesswork out of cooking by measuring the internal temperature of foods. This will provide reassurance that food has been cooked to a safe level and is not overcooked.

Ground meats should be cooked to 160 F, poultry 180 F (breasts 170 F), beef roasts 145 F, casseroles, leftovers, ground poultry 165 F, pork 160 F, and fully cooked ham 140 F. Never partially cook food for finishing later because you increase the risk of bacterial growth in the food.

Keeping hot foods hot (above 140 F) can be a challenge when cooking for a crowd. Reheat foods to 165 F on the stovetop, oven or in the microwave. Then keep it hot by using chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays and slow cooker.

Reheating leftovers in slow cookers, steam tables or chafing dishes is not recommended because foods may stay in the "danger zone."

Cold foods need to be kept at 40 F or lower. On the serving table, place the container of food inside a deep pan filled partially with ice to keep food cold. Drain off water as ice melts and replace frequently. Or, use smaller serving containers that would be changed frequently (at least every two hours).

Several uncooked holiday recipes have eggs that remain raw or only partially cooked. Since eggs can harbor the

bacteria Salmonella enteritidis, they need to be thoroughly cooked to destroy this path-ogen.

There are several options: modify the recipe, find a different recipe with cooked eggs, if available use pasteurized eggs, or take this item off your menu.

Chilling and storing leftovers is often the most abused food handling practice when cooking for a crowd. Food needs to cool down quickly (within four hours). It is common to overfill the refrigerator with hot foods � cool air must circulate.

The key to cooling quickly is placing food in shallow containers and placing in refrigerator. Do not cover the food until it is cooled. To cool large amounts of food, soups and stews quickly, place container in an ice water bath and stir frequently.

Storing cooled foods in plastic bags that seal saves room in your refrigerator since the bag will take the shape and size of the food. An added bonus: no cleanup after the food is served. But remember to leave room between bags for cold air circulation.

Throughout the entire process of hosting a meal for a crowd wash hands and surfaces often. Avoid spreading bacteria around the kitchen by wiping up spills with paper towels or clean cloths, and wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water. A solution of one-half teaspoon to one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water may be used to sanitize washed surfaces.

Consider buying yourself an early holiday gift that can make your holidays safer � a food thermometer.

"After cooking with a food thermometer, you will find it difficult to cook without one," Hegerfeld said.

Contact your local county Extension office for more information on preparing and serving holiday foods.

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