Food safety tips for holiday dining

Stuffing can grow bacteria quickly if it's not properly handled. Photo by edgeplot, Flickr.

Stuffing can grow bacteria quickly if it’s not properly handled. Photo by edgeplot, Flickr.

Don’t invite Clostridium Perfringens  to your holiday dinners.

This foodborne illness is one of the most common and least known.  The Alaska Food Safety and Sanitation Program  says it’s a good idea to learn more about it before it becomes an unwelcome guest.

Program director Kim Stryker says Clostridium Perfringens  is typically associated with improper cooling of cooked food.

“Sometimes when you’re cooking for groups, you’re doing a lot of prep ahead of time, and you’ve got large containers or pots that you’re working with, maybe a soup, or a gravy, or stuffing or that kind of thing,” she says.  “When you cool it down, you want to make sure that you have it separated out into shallow containers,” she says.

Put those uncovered containers in the refrigerator right away.

“Leave the lids off until it’s been cooled down properly, so you’re not retaining heat in the containers.  People often think, ‘Oh, just leave it on the counter until it cools so you don’t warm up the refrigerator.’  It’s best to put it right in the fridge uncovered and once it cools down in those shallow containers then put your lids on,” she says.

Bacteria grow fastest between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stryker advises throwing out food left at room temperature for two hours or more.

Cross-contamination of foods is another source of illness that many cooks don’t think about.

“So in other words, keep things separate.  If you are working with raw poultry or raw meat, make sure that you’re washing your hands and changing out cutting boards or utensils before working with things that are not going to be cooked, maybe a salad or appetizers or something like that,” she says.

Doing a buffet?  Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.  And the next day, reheat the  leftovers to at least 165 degrees.

ALWAYS:  Wash your hands when preparing food.