Avoiding Risky Habits in the Kitchen During the Holidays

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man and woman in kitchen cooking

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

With the holidays just around the corner, it is important to prepare your kitchen and pantry ahead of time and use your SNAP/FNS benefits to stock your fridge and shelves before the big day. But what most people fail to consider are some of the risky habits that may come from cooking or baking during a busy week or a busy day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), here are some common mistakes many Americans make during the holiday season that must be avoided to ensure your and your family’s safety:

1. Not washing your hands or kitchen surfaces before, during, and after food prep.

To avoid foodborne illnesses, it is important to wash your hands and any surfaces your food may touch. When washing your hands, make sure to use soap and water and then rub your hands together with soap for at least 20 seconds before touching your food again. Some of the USDA’s studies have found that most people forget to wash their kitchen space or their hands when cooking.

To maintain your counters and surfaces clean, sanitize anything that has touched raw meats (such as turkey) and its juices. Soap and water help to physically remove germs, but other homemade solutions can work such as a adding one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or using a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe.

2. Using the same cutting boards and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods.

To avoid cross-contamination between all of your kitchen surfaces and utensils, use separate cutting boards for raw meats and poultry, and another one for ready-to-eat foods such as fruits and vegetables.

3. Defrosting any type of meat on the kitchen counter.

You should avoid leaving any frozen packages of meat or poultry on your kitchen counter for more than two hours at room temperature. This can be dangerous as the outer layers of the meat will have defrosted first and can become the right place for foodborne bacteria to multiple. Here are some instructions on how to safely thaw a turkey or other types of meat:

Refrigerator thawing: Allow roughly 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. After thawing, a turkey is safe in a refrigerator for one to two days.

Cold water thawing: Allow 30 minutes per pound and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping to avoid cross-contamination. Change the water every half hour until the turkey is thawed. Cook it immediately after thawing.

4. Cooking your meat overnight at a low temperature.

Never cook your meat or poultry in an oven set lower than 325 F. By doing so, you allow your meat to stay in what is called the “danger zone” for proliferation of bacteria for too long. Cook your turkey at 325 F or above and ensure all parts of the turkey reach a safe internal temperature of 165 F.

5. Relying only on a pop-up temperature indicator.

Pop-up timers can be helpful in identifying the internal temperature of your meat, but it can normally only check for the temperature in one specific spot. The USDA recommends testing it in three different spots. Always use a food thermometer to ensure your turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh to check its internal temperature.

6. Stuffing your turkey or other meats the night before.

In general, the USDA recommends against stuffing your turkey to avoid bacteria growth. However, if you still plan on stuffing your turkey, make sure to follow these steps:

  • Prepare the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately from each other and refrigerate until ready to use. Mixing the dry and the wet ingredients produce an environment that bacteria can thrive in hours before being placed in the oven. Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the cavity of the turkey.
  • Stuff the turkey loosely — about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
  • Never stuff a whole turkey and store in the refrigerator before cooking. Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 F.
  • A stuffed turkey will take 50% longer to cook. Once it has finished cooking, place a food thermometer in the center of the stuffing to ensure it has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F.

7. Keeping leftovers for more than a week.

When dinner is over and you want to store your leftovers, make sure to use small, shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator. They should be safe to eat up to no more than four days. In the freezer, your food should be safe frozen indefinitely but will keep the best quality for two to six months.

For more food safety information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

Information accessed at: https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2023/11/13/keep-risky-habits-out-kitchen-thanksgiving

For questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or to receive SNAP Application Assistance contact the More In My Basket staff:

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