NORMAN — Families and friends will soon be gathered around elaborate meals to celebrate the holidays. No matter the time of year or occasion, though, hosts should keep food safety in mind while laying out the spread.
Making sure you are handling food safely will not keep you from being creative and fun, but it will help prevent foodborne illness.
Foodborne-illness-causing bacteria can multiply or produce toxins to make someone sick in just two hours at room temperature. If that temperature is 90 degrees or more, the time limit is sliced to one hour.
That puts a premium on keeping hot foods heated and cold foods chilled to an internal temperature of 140 degrees or warmer and 40 degrees or colder, respectively.
One strategy for successfully achieving that goal is to set out smaller portions, especially if you are not sure how fast the food will disappear. You can prepare some dishes ahead of time and then just refresh them throughout the meal or gathering.
Put the backup dishes for cold foods in the refrigerator and keep dishes for hot foods in the oven set at 200 to 250 degrees.
You can monitor the temperature by using a food thermometer. If you are using a warming dish, know that some only hold food up to 110 to 120 degrees instead of the required 140. You can check the product information for details.
When it comes to cold foods, keep those items in the refrigerator until it is time for them to be served. If you believe those dishes will set out for more than two hours, place them on ice to maintain the cold.
Also, as you are replenishing items — hot or cold — throughout the meal, always use a fresh serving dish and serving utensil rather than simply filling up the emptied one.
Bacteria from your guests’ hands could contaminate the food, and bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature. So using the fresh dishes each time you refill items helps cut down on risk of exposing your guests to potentially dangerous bacteria.
Finally, remember that the two-hour rule for leaving foods at room temperature also applies to leftovers and “doggie bags.”
Store any leftovers in the refrigerator immediately. Any guests who want to take home food from the meal, but who are traveling more than a couple of hours, should plan ahead and bring a small cooler and a cold source.
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