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NEWS | Nov. 26, 2013

Keep bacteria from spoiling holiday feasts

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Hearty eating is as much a part of the holidays as gift giving and festive decorations, but it's vital to follow safe food handling and preparation practices to make sure food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria don't spoil the spirit of the season.

"Having a safe holiday meal begins with selecting foods from reputable sources," Tech Sgt. Carrie Powell, 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight community health NCO in charge, said. "It's also important to inspect your food for wholesomeness."

Because turkey and other meats are the centerpiece of any holiday buffet or meal, proper preparation is vital, Powell said.

"Wash hands thoroughly with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey or other meats," she said. "Wash cutting boards, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing any raw meat or poultry before going to the next food. Also, use a bleach and water solution - one capful of bleach to a gallon of water - to disinfect counter tops and cutting boards that contact the meat."

Other safe practices are separating raw meats, poultry and other perishable foods from ready-to-eat foods; using a separate cutting board and utensils for uncooked meat, poultry and ready-to-eat foods such as salads and cranberry; and using a clean plate and utensils for serving cooked meat and poultry.

Following a safe cooking process is also important, Powell said.

"Make sure foods are cooked in accordance with the recommended internal temperatures," she said.

Food thermometers are an important kitchen tool, especially for meat and poultry, which typically browns fast on the outside when cooked on a grill, Powell said. Raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit; raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to 155 degrees; and poultry to 165 degrees. All foods should be reheated to 165 degrees for 15 seconds before consumption.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours; hot foods should be held at 140 degrees using chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays; and cold foods should be held at 40 degrees or colder by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

The recommended cooling method for leftovers is to cool the product from 135 degrees to 70 degrees within two hours and to 41 degrees or less within six hours, Powell said. Excess meat from the turkey carcass should be promptly removed and refrigerated.

"A good rule of thumb is not to keep leftovers for more than seven days, and all leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees to kill any bacteria that might have grown while in storage," she said.

Following all these simple rules "can avoid putting your family's and friends' health at risk, and avoid a food-borne illness from occurring in your home," Powell said.