Food safety rules

February 25, 2012

Food, Holidays

Many home cooks — even the most seasoned ones — are either unaware of the less obvious food safety rules or break the ones they know.

by Bill Marler — 

The holiday season is a good time to remind home cooks about how to make food that will not make guests and family sick with food-borne illness.

Many home cooks — even the most seasoned ones — are either unaware of the less obvious food safety rules or break the ones they know. Merriment can quickly shift to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Here are some important “do’s and don’ts” for a safe holiday season:

• Do keep it clean. Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling any food, and wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each item. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool, running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.

• Do not rinse that turkey. Contrary to popular belief, rinsing the bird is not a good idea. Rinsing poultry can potentially spread bacteria to work surfaces within a three-foot radius, contaminating other foods in your kitchen that may not be cooked before eating.

• Do separate. Keep egg products, raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from foods that remain uncooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing food in the refrigerator at home and while preparing meals. Also, use different cutting boards for foods that will be cooked and for foods that will not.

• Do not stuff a chicken or turkey hours before cooking. Stuffing should be prepared and placed in the turkey immediately before going into the oven. For optimal safety, cook stuffing in a separate casserole dish to ensure both bird and stuffing are cooked thoroughly.

• Do cook to safe temperatures. To check a turkey’s temperature, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature of the bird (and the stuffing) reaches a minimum of 165°.

• Do not defrost food at room temperature. Food should be defrosted in the refrigerator for the correct amount of time. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to completely thaw in the refrigerator.

• Do refrigerate quickly. Harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftovers within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie.

• Do not eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs. Wait until those gingerbread men are baked. And when making eggnog or other recipes calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products or powdered egg whites.

• Do eat leftovers within three to four days. It is not always possible to tell if food is still safe to eat by look, smell or taste.


Bill Marler, an attorney, has been a major force in food safety in the United States and abroad by representing thousands of people who have been sickened by unsafe foods. He also writes and speaks frequently about food safety and food-borne illness. or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 6, Dec 2010/Jan 2011.

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