Tis’ the Season - How to Store and Prepare Holiday Dishes Safely
Tis’ the season to celebrate with food. Many of us are cooking up favorite meals in our own kitchens and receiving food gifts and homemade goodies from friends and family. Are you preparing and storing holiday dishes safely? It is especially important for cancer patients to prepare and store foods safely to decrease the risk for food-borne illness. Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or taking certain medications should take extra precautions. These treatments can affect the immune system making one more susceptible to food-borne illness.
Below are some tips you can use to ensure you and your loved ones are food safe this holiday season:
- Don’t rinse raw meat in your sink. Rinsing raw meat spreads bacteria in your sink. Thawing frozen meats in the refrigerator is the best method. It usually takes about 24 hours of thawing in the refrigerator for every four pounds of meat.
- Wash your hands. Washing hands for at least 20 seconds in warm soapy water can eliminate many cases of food-borne illness. Be sure to wash between fingers and under nails and dry your hands with either a clean towel or paper towel.
- Don’t let hot foods cool on the counter. Allowing foods to cool without refrigeration makes it more likely for bacteria to grow. The danger zone for bacteria to grow is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It is important to store food below 40 or above 140 degrees to prevent the growth of bacteria. Store food in small, shallow containers so it cools more quickly.
- Pack and refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within 2 hours of serving a meal. Take note of how long food has been sitting out. Aim to pack and store leftover food at the proper temperature as quickly as possible.
- Label and date each container that is stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Labeling leftovers will help you to be sure food is safe.
- Eat refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days. If leftover food has been in the refrigerator for more than 3-4 days, throw it out.
- Eat frozen leftovers within 2 to 6 months. If frozen food comes from leftovers, it needs to be eaten within 2 to 6 months or thrown out.
- Reheat any leftovers to at least 165 degrees. Having a food thermometer can be helpful to determine if food is heated to the appropriate temperature.
- Check expiration labels. Throw out any expired food to decrease your risk of food-borne illness.
You can check out more tips at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Home Food Safety website here. Look over this Refrigerator/Freezer Food Storage Chart for more info on storing food safely here. For those of you with smart phones, the Academy also offers a FREE phone app called, “Is My Food Safe?” This app is complete with guides for safe cooking temperatures and a food storage guide.
The following tip is easy to remember: “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season! If you have specific questions regarding any of these guidelines, please contact the registered dietitians at The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation. We provide one-on-one nutrition guidance and will make more specific recommendations based on cancer type and current nutrition status.