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The uninvited guest at a holiday feast

Holiday mealtime a boon for bacteria

Are you the designated chef this Thanksgiving? Here's a guide to help you cook your dishes to perfection. It's important to make sure your food is the proper temperature inside and out. Use the following temperature guide to see if your food is throughly cooked.
Most seafood will be opaque when cooked throughly. Filets and whole fish will flake easily. Shrimp and lobster shells turn red when finished and scallops turn milky white and are very firm.

Source: International Food Safety Council


November 18, 1999
Web posted at: 11:17 a.m. EST (1617 GMT)

In this story:

Use a thermometer when reheating

In the bird or out, stuffing safe at 165 degrees


By Cathryn Meurer
CNN Interactive

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The harried host who picks up turkey and fixings from a caterer would do well to bring home a high-tech food thermometer too, for a delicious holiday meal that doesn't bite back a few hours later as food poisoning.

The safe handling of all foods at a holiday meal, whether home-made or take-out, turkey or squash casserole, is the aim of the International Food Safety Council(IFSC), which is distributing information to restaurants and consumers this fall.

"Handling food safely is especially important during the holidays because food is often prepared in advance and served buffet style," Caitlin Storhaug wrote in a publication from the IFSC.

  • Serve small platters, keep back-ups in refrigerator  
  • Replace entire dish when replenishing.  
  • Do not mix fresh food with that left at room temperature  
  • Keep hot food in chafing dishes or on warming trays  
  • Place dishes of cold foods on ice. 
  • Throw out food left out more than two hours

  • Refrigerate or freeze food within 2 hours  
  • Slice large cuts of meat into serving size packets before refrigerating  
  • Store thick foods, such as casseroles in small containers  
  • Date label and discard after 3 to 4 days in refrigerator  
  • Reheat to 165 degrees and stir to cook evenly

    Source: International Food Safety Council

  • Bacteria multiply rapidly when food is left at room temperature (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit), and Storhaug advises after two hours on a buffet, food should be tossed. Holiday meals, which can be long, multi-course affairs, with diners sneaking back later for seconds, can offer the perfect environment for bacterial growth.

    "If in doubt," Storhaug says, "throw it out."

    Use a thermometer when reheating

    Just about all foods which are reheated, not just stuffing, need to reach a temperature hot enough to kill bacteria. For sauces, custards, and casseroles made with eggs, that's 165 degrees Fahrenheit. And that's where new high-tech food thermometers come in -- checking food temperatures faster than a teen-ager can gobble up sweet-potato pie.

    Instant-read thermometers have a slim metal probe which measures food, liquid and even air temperature, in seconds, from 14 to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. They sell for around $20.

    A thermometer fork draws rave reviews from the people who run the Meat and Poultry Hotline, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's digital display shows the temperature of very thin foods instantly by simply inserting the tines into a hamburger or pork chop, for example.

    The USDA reports only 50 percent of cooks actually bother with a thermometer, which the USDA sees as a critical problem, especially for turkey and stuffing.

    In the bird or out, stuffing safe at 165 degrees

    Stuffing, or dressing, cooked with the delectable juices of a Thanksgiving turkey must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria. And that sometimes means dressing needs further cooking after the turkey is done. USDA Food Safety experts say turkey can reach the proper internal temperature of 180 degrees, measured in the innermost part of the thigh, before the stuffing reaches 165 degrees.

  • Sweet potatoes scarce, expensive for holidays

  • Clinton gives turkey reason to say thanks

  • Vegetarian Thanksgivings take wing

  • Holiday mealtime a boon for bacteria

  • Recipes for turkey leftovers

  • Another new gadget useful for cooking turkeys is an oven cord thermometer/timer. Once the sensor is placed in the food, the cook never need open the oven door again until a beep signals that the food is ready. A flat metal cord connects the sensor to a digital display which stays outside the oven.

    The USDA gives complete guidance on turkey safety through it's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-(800)535-4555, and web site: Among the turkey no-nos: cooking the gobbler below 325 degrees and defrosting the bird on the kitchen counter.

    A spectacular holiday meal deserves to be relived with scrumptious leftovers, and the experts say if properly stored, foods can be safely enjoyed for three to four days.

    Comfort House: Kitchen thermometers
    International Food Safety Counci
    USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
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