Make food safety a priority for holiday eating

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By Elizabeth Creed

Millions of cases of foodborne illness occur in the United States each year. Don't let a case of food poisoning ruin your holiday season!

With proper food handling practices you can protect yourself and your family from foodborne illnesses.

Keep everything that comes into contact with food clean. Be sure to wash your hands often, especially after handling raw meats. Clean and sanitize kitchen counters and cutting boards.

Use clean dishtowels, hand towels, dishes and utensils.

Keep raw meats separate from other foods. Do not use the same cutting board for raw meats that you use for other foods. Bacteria in the meat juices can linger on the cutting boards and cross-contaminate other foods. Cook foods to proper temperatures.

Cooking foods to proper temperatures can destroy harmful bacteria.

Follow these guidelines to be sure that your food has reached a safe internal temperature.

* Turkey and chicken, whole - 165 degrees

* Stuffing - 165 degrees

* Egg dishes - 160 degrees

* Leftovers and casseroles - 165 degrees

Purchase a meat thermometer so that you can be sure your food is safe!

You can get instant-read thermometers to check the temperature of foods at the end of cooking. These thermometers cannot go in the oven while the food is cooking. Standard meat thermometers however are metal and can go in the oven while the food is cooking.

For turkey, place the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh because the dark meat of the turkey thigh takes longer to cook than any other part.

Store leftovers promptly. Leftovers shouldn't be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Store any leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. Be sure to wrap them well or store in covered containers. Don't keep leftovers around too long.

Harmful bacteria can grow even in the refrigerator.

If you are not sure if something is safe to eat, don't eat it. When in doubt, throw it out!

Here are some basic guidelines for keeping leftovers.

* Roasted turkey - three to four days

* Stuffing - one to two days

* Giblet gravy - one to two days

* Roast beef - three to four days

* Baked ham - three to five days

* Cooked vegetables - three to five days

* Fruit desserts/pie - three to five days

If you are going to freeze leftover turkey, do so as soon after cooking as possible. The longer you leave it in the refrigerator before freezing, the poorer the quality will be when you eat it later.

Contact the Marion County Extension office for more information.

Editor's note: Elizabeth Creed is the family and consumer science extension agent for Marion County.