Party season brings a buffet of food, which often sits out for hours while everyone nibbles the night away. Of course, no one ever thinks they’ll get sick from spoiled or raw food…that is, until they do. At best, you get sick just bad enough to never again make that mistake. At worst, your foodborne illness becomes downright dangerous. Children, pregnant women, older adults and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. But you can reduce your chances of cookie-dough catastrophe by following four basic food safety steps, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You could also follow these festive-food no-nos.
Exile raw eggs
While delicious and mischievous, uncooked cookie dough should be off limits. Raw eggs are prone to salmonella bacteria. Avoid eating any food that contains raw eggs, including foods in which eggs are not thoroughly cooked. That means no raw cookie dough, milk shakes with raw eggs, homemade Caesar salad dressing, homemade mayonnaise, ice cream or eggnog.
In lieu of those creamy favorites, try vegan egg substitutes and pasteurized eggs. These can be used safely without cooking. And conveniently, pasteurized eggs come in various forms: liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, pasteurized in-shell eggs or powdered egg whites. Try any one of these in your own recipes. Also, if you’re making egg-based sauces, soups, dessert fillings or gravies, make sure to bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
You may be left wondering “is eggnog safe?” Sorry to say adding rum to your eggnog to kill the bacteria is an old wives’ tale. Alcohol will not make eggnog – or any raw egg recipe – safe to consume. Of course, cashew-based vegan eggnog is always an option.
Let go of lengthy leftovers
Make sure to refrigerate leftovers, including pie, within two hours of preparation. If you’re hosting a potluck-style party, put guests’ dishes in the refrigerator or warm oven until time to eat. Appetizers are especially prone to foodborne illness, including creamy dips, cheese balls, deviled eggs, meats and pate. These little bites are often left on the buffet table for long periods of time so guests can graze, but these perishable foods are high risk. Letting them sit at room temperature all night only amplifies your risk of getting sick. Play it safe and put them away after two hours. When you’re ready to savor those leftovers, heat them to steaming hot before eating. The inside temperature should reach 165 degrees F.
Thaw in the cold
Many people practice thawing meats on the countertop. The safest preparation is to allow enough time to properly thaw meat in the refrigerator or in a cold water bath. Alternatively, you can thaw meat in the microwave on the defrost setting, provided you’re cooking it right away. For large roasts, it is best to thaw in the refrigerator. Remember, a 20-pound turkey takes four to five days to thaw in the refrigerator, so plan ahead to allow for this.
Also, don’t cook meat that is only partially thawed but still frozen in the center. Make sure it is fully thawed before cooking. If using a slow cooker, let meat thaw properly in the refrigerator before cooking.
Don’t trust your senses
Yes, some food that is spoiled is easy to tell right away. Mold or slime can be clearly visible and/or smelly. However, unlike the microorganisms that spoil food, harmful bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted. Some of these bad guys include Salmonella enterica, Staphylococcus aureaus (Staph), Clostridium perfringens and Listeria monocytogenes, among others. To prevent them from being spread and multiplying, be sure to:
- Wash hands and utensils before handling foods.
- Don’t let foods sit out at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Keep cooked foods hot or cold – not lukewarm.
- Follow instructions on food labels if it says “keep refrigerated.”
- Observe “sell by” and “use by” dates on foods.
- Divide large portions of cooked foods into smaller portions for serving and cooling.
- Store leftovers in a single-portion containers to serve only as much as you can eat at once.
- Reheat frozen or refrigerated processed meat and poultry products before eating.