The holiday season is here. With food prices rising, here are a few tips to save big, from our UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Find additional resources at https://efnep.uconn.edu/.
Article by Indu Upadhyaya, Ph.D., Assistant Extension Educator, Food Safety
Holiday gatherings bring families and friends together, to spread more joy and happiness. While the merriment begins around Thanksgiving and continues until the New Years’, the food during holiday buffets, the party trays, the turkey, and other delicacies remain the main attraction of gathering. But be aware that a well-meaning and much anticipated get together can easily turn sour if the food is not safely prepared, served, or stored. Food safety should be diligently taken care of, especially during holidays, as in the delight of the season, negligence could cause serious health consequences.
Most people who get sick from eating contaminated food, might have mild illness and recover early, however susceptible population can see lasting effects or even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick each year from contaminated food. Approximately 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die due to foodborne diseases across the country. These data are out of reported cases, thereby not including cases of undocumented, non-reported stomach indigestions and/or mild diarrhea or vomiting. The real number of patients getting sick from foodborne illnesses is still an unknown and hard to predict.
What you CAN do this season is control food contamination at your own home and community. Start with these simple steps aligning with USDA holiday food safety guidelines.
Here are the 8 “always” of food safety to help everyone stay healthy during the holiday season:
- Always wash your hands
It’s a simple rule to follow, yet many easily forget in midst of festivities. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash hands:
- Before you start preparing food,
- After using the bathroom,
- Before serving food and eating,
- After you handle raw meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and eggs.
- Always clean and sanitize:
Clean and sanitize any surfaces that have touched raw turkey, meat or fish and their juices and will later touch food such as kitchen counters, sinks, stoves, tabletops, etc.
Cleaning: with soap and hot water, and a paper or dish towel. Use these to remove any dirt and debris you can see.
Sanitizing: sanitize the surfaces to kill any remaining germs. Different food grade sanitizers or sanitizing wipes can be used. Allow to air dry and follow the label instructions on commercial sanitizers to determine whether you need to rinse food preparation areas after use.
Food borne bacteria like Campylobacter and Salmonella, found in poultry products, can survive on countertops and other kitchen surfaces from 4 to up to 32 hours, so make sure you repeat this step after handling raw meats or turkey.
Don’t forget to clean and sanitize any areas that will encounter the turkey before and after cooking.
- Always Thaw the Frozen Meat/Turkey Safely:
Always follow USDA recommended thawing. There are three ways to safely thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.
- Refrigerator thaw: Turkey can be safely thawed in a refrigerator. Allow roughly 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. After thawing, a turkey is safe in a refrigerator for one to two days, before cooking.
- Cold water thaw: The cold-water thawing method will thaw your turkey faster but needs to be done very carefully. When thawing in a cold-water bath, allow 30 minutes per pound and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping to avoid cross-contamination. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook immediately after thawing.
- Microwave thaw: Smaller sized turkeys that fit in the microwave can be thawed using this method. Make sure to follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the thawing process, bringing the food to the “Danger Zone.” (Between 40-140F).
It’s safe to cook a completely frozen turkey; however, it will take at least 50 percent longer to fully cook.
Remember to never thaw your turkey in hot water or leave it on a countertop.
- Always Separate food items to avoid cross contamination:
Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from raw meat and poultry onto ready-to-eat food, surfaces, and utensils. To avoid this, always use separate cutting boards — one for raw meat and poultry, and another for fruits and vegetables. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other food. After cutting raw meats, wash cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot, soapy water.
USDA recommends not to wash your raw poultry due to the risk of splashing bacteria throughout your kitchen. It can easily lead to aerosolizing bacteria and cross contamination. As mentioned earlier, always clean and sanitize any surfaces that have touched raw turkey and its juices. That includes counters, sinks, stoves, tabletops, utensils, and plates. Sinks are the most contaminated areas of the kitchen, so keep them clean and don’t transfer any dirty items to clean spaces. It’s important to pay attention to your movements in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination.
- Always Cook Thoroughly:
Always follow a standard recipe to cook properly. Make sure your turkey is cooked to a safe final internal temperature of 165°F by using a reliable food thermometer. Check the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh. Cook your turkey at 325º F until its internal temperature reaches at least 165º F. Cooked, hot foods should be kept at 140º F or warmer.
When cooking a stuffed turkey, pay attention that the turkey, as well as the stuffing inside of it, reaches at least 165º F. Even if the turkey itself reaches 165º F, the stuffing inside may take longer. Its best to prepare your stuffing and turkey just before cooking. Using a cold stuffing makes it more difficult to reach the safe temperature of 165º F. Stuff the turkey loosely and use ¾ of a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Use a moist stuffing rather than a dry stuffing because heat destroys bacteria better in a moist environment. To be on the safe side, cook stuffing separately.
If cooking other meats, cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. If you prefer, you may choose to cook the meat to a higher temperature.
For Ground meats: Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
For baked goods, avoid eating foods containing raw eggs or uncooked flour, such as cookie dough or cake batter. It’s tempting to sneak a taste during preparation, but pathogens like Salmonella present in these ingredients can lead to food poisoning if not cooked first.
- Always follow the 2-hour rule:
All perishable foods must be refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the stove or fridge, or one hour if the ambient air temperature is above 90°F. Never forget this 2-hour rule put forth by USDA. After two hours, perishable food will enter the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), which is where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe. Discard all foods that have been left out for more than two hours.
- Always Keep warm food warm and cold food cold
Remember the rule — keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Always transport hot foods by wrapping in dishes in insulated containers to keep their temperature above 140 F.
- Always transport cold foods in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep them at or below 40 F.
When serving food to groups, maintain the temperature by using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 F and cold items should remain below 40 F. Temperature abuse of food is one of the main reasons for people falling sick very often. Always follow proper guidelines.
- Always store leftovers appropriately:
Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving leftovers. But they must be stored and refrigerated promptly to be safe to eat. After the turkey is served, immediately slice, and refrigerate on shallow platters. Store leftover food in shallow containers and refrigerate promptly. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days. Use gravy within one to two days. Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat up to four days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, leftovers are safely frozen indefinitely but will keep best quality from two to six months.
Always reheat all leftovers to 165°F, and check that temperature with a food thermometer. Cold foods should be kept at 41º F or less. And as they say, when in doubt, throw it out! Do not try to save potentially contaminated food.
Lastly, don’t prepare foods if you are sick or showing symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea or if you recently had such symptoms. Many foodborne illnesses are transmitted unknowingly by human error, by a food preparer who had these symptoms. If you are ill, let someone else do the cooking so you can have a safe and enjoyable meal with your family and friends.
References and additional resources:
A partnership between UConn and local tribes led to the development of Meechooôk Farm and other programs that strengthen the tribal community, their land-base, and self-sufficiency. Learn more about the project by reading this article.
Financial support for this work was provided by the USDA NIFA Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP Awards 2017-41580-26950 and 2022-41580-37944).
This information is courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Avian Influenza (AI) remains a threat and all birds and poultry, including wildlife, can carry the disease.
What Is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)?
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is an extremely infectious viral disease that occurs naturally in wild birds and can spread to domestic birds.
The virus has led to the disposal of about 48 million poultry in 21 Western and Midwestern states since December of 2014.
No confirmed cases have occurred since June. The virus has not been detected in the Northeast or Connecticut, but there is concern that it may spread to the Northeast during the fall or spring wild bird migration.
Is there a public health risk?
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) consider the risk to people to be low, and no human infections have been detected.
The risk to the food supply and consumers is also low, and controls are in place to preclude poultry and eggs from affected flocks from entering the food system. Poultry and eggs that are properly handled and cooked are safe to eat.
What kind of birds can the virus affect?
The virus can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of wild birds.
How many poultry are there in Connecticut?
There are an estimated 5 million poultry housed on approximately 240 farms in Connecticut. The state is also home to numerous people who own a small number of poultry for exhibition, meat and egg production.
What is the state doing to reduce the risk of the virus spreading here?
The state Department of Agriculture and other state and federal agencies have created a task force that is preparing for a potential incident of HPAI in Connecticut, and is ready to implement a response plan if necessary.
The task force includes the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) – which is responsible for monitoring the wild bird population – the Department of Public Health, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, and the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.
The emergency response plan follows these five basic steps:
- Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area.
- Eradicate – depopulate the affected flock(s).
- Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area.
- Disinfect – kills the virus in the affected flock locations.
- Test – confirm that the poultry farm is free of HPAI.
The task force is also in active, ongoing communication with neighboring states and the U.S Dept. Of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare for the detection of HPAI in Connecticut.
The USDA has experience with the previous three HPAI outbreaks in commercial poultry in the U.S., in 1924, 1983 and 2004. No human illnesses were associated with those incidents, or the current one.
The agriculture department has been conducting outreach about HPAI for several years.
The agency is now working with poultry owners to prepare for a potential incident, and is urging them to register their birds with the state.
How is the virus spread?
It is typically spread to poultry from direct contact with wild birds or a contaminated environment. Once established in a domestic poultry flock, it can spread rapidly.
It is also spread by the movement of infected poultry, contaminated poultry equipment, and people who can transfer the virus between farms on their shoes and clothing.
What should poultry owners do to reduce the risk of its spread?
Eliminate opportunities for domestic birds to interact with wild birds. Owners of birds should avoid visiting other farms, homes or facilities that also have birds.
Those who must visit another premises with poultry should practice strict bio-security measures, such as wearing clean clothes and shoes, and keeping vehicles clean and free of dirt, manure and other organic material.
In addition, knowing the signs to look for and monitoring the health of birds on a regular basis is very important.
Signs to look for include:
- Unusual, high mortality of birds
- Nasal discharge
- Respiratory distress
- Swelling around the head, eyes and neck
- Decreased consumption of food and water
- A drop in egg production
Poultry owners are being urged to register their birds or flocks with the state, and can do so by going to the homepage of the Dept. of Agriculture’s website: CTGrown.gov. Poultry owners may also call the Dept. of Agriculture at 860-713-2504.
Who can I contact to register my flock or if I suspect my poultry are infected?
Poultry owners may call the state Department of Agriculture at 860-713-2504, or the USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.
Who can I contact if I find a dead wild bird that I suspect may be carrying the virus?
Any concerns about wild birds should be forwarded to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division at 860-424-3011, or by clicking on www.cfwwildbirdmortalityreporting.ct.gov/
If you have not yet registered, register by today for the early bird discount!
Virtual, Thursday, November 3, 2022, 8:30 AM-4 PM
The 2022 CIPWG Symposium theme is Strategies for Managing Invasive Plants: Assess, Remove, Replace, and Restore.
Early Registration $50 on or before October 7th
Regular Registration $65 after October 7th
Student Registration $25
Registration closes November 1, 2022 at 11:59 AM EST
• Keynote presentation: “Invasive Plant Management: What we know, what we do not know, and what we must know,” will be delivered by Bernd Blossey, Professor of Natural Resources at Cornell University.
• The morning session will include presentations by Bryan Connolly, Assistant Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University and Diane Jorsey, Supervisor of the Pesticide Management Program at CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
• The first series of breakout hour-long sessions will complete the morning program and the remaining sessions will follow in the afternoon program.
• During the webinar program, attendees will be able to choose from one of two topics during each breakout session.
• The breakout sessions include topics titled: Assessing the Land: Case Studies on What Works; What is Working Around the State; Managing in your backyard: Failures and Successes; Limitations: Legal and Practical; Control Strategies for Mile-a-Minute, Water Chestnut, and Hydrilla; and Replacement and Restoration: Design, Propagating, and Sourcing Native Seed.
• Registration for the event provides a link for viewing the entire recorded program. This allows attendees the opportunity to review important information from all breakout sessions following the conclusion of the event.