Get Healthy Carson City: Handle food properly for a happy, healthy holiday

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

People around the world are celebrating the holiday season. Whether you and your family observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another winter holiday, one of the most beloved holiday traditions is sharing a meal with loved ones.

For most of us, the holidays represent a departure from our normal cooking habits. We make more foods, in greater quantities, and special dishes that we might only get once a year, like turkey, a whole ham, or several types of pie. Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed in the kitchen, we might make simple mistakes, like using a contaminated spoon to serve the mashed potatoes. By being careful and following some important food safety tips, we can ensure our holiday meal is as safe as it is delicious.

“The most important thing you can do to stop the spread of germs is to wash your hands,” says epidemiologist Dustin Boothe. “Before you start to prepare a meal, make sure you wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.” The same is true during preparation. Cooks and kitchen helpers should wash hands and all kitchen utensils and surfaces between food items to stop spreading bacteria from one food to another. Using the same cutting utensil without cleaning it can cross-contaminate foods, and lead to food borne illness. Wash any used utensils and dishes, or better yet, get a new one for each food. Wipe down counter tops as well with a clean cloth or disinfecting wipes.

Heating to proper temperatures is important to ensure any bacteria in raw foods — especially meats — are killed during the cooking process. With a large item, like a turkey or prime rib, it’s especially important to make sure it’s cooked all the way through. If you’re stuffing a turkey or serving other poultry, it’s critical to ensure both the stuffing and the bird reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. For beef roasts, pork or ham, an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient. Regardless of what protein you choose, make sure you follow the instructions, and leave plenty of time to defrost and cook it thoroughly.

One of the best parts of the holidays is being able to have some delicious leftovers to snack on in the days following the feast, but to do this, proper cooling and storage of the food is critical. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of your refrigerator. It should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. After you finish the meal, make sure you promptly put all food items in the refrigerator. Don’t let food sit out, this can help bacteria grow.

For more tips on proper food storage and handling for any time of year, visit

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