USDA Offers Tips to Help Keep Your Holiday Illness-Free

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Communications Manager

As the end of the year approaches, it’s likely there are multiple meals and parties in your future. Carrying food from one location to another and sharing dishes with a crowd means more opportunity for bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning. Whether you’re an experienced cook, a first-time party host, or simply adding a dish to the potluck lineup, the holidays can make even the most confident chefs nervous.

To help keep your holiday season healthy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations on how to protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness.

If you have specific food safety questions this holiday season you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov. These services are available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

Steps to follow during holiday grocery shopping:

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in your grocery cart.
  • Buy cold foods last.
  • Ask the cashier to place your raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate bag.

Steps to follow during food preparation:

  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
  • Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross-contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure they don’t become contaminated after preparation.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of dishes to ensure they are fully cooked and safe to eat. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 ˚F with a three minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 ˚F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 ˚F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 ˚F; and all poultry should be cooked to 165 ˚F.

Fool proof tips when cooking for groups:

  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold, using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 ˚F and cold items should remain below 40 ˚F.
  • Use several small plates when serving food.
  • Discard perishable foods left out for 2 hours or more.

Steps to follow when cooking a holiday roast:

  • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw roasts and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Wash items such as cutting boards that have touched raw meat with warm water and soap, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • To ensure the juiciest possible roast this holiday, use a meat thermometer. Once it has reached the USDA recommended internal temperature of 145 F, the roast is safe to eat.
  • Remember all cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb need a three minute rest time before cutting or consuming.

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov and follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter. Consumers with questions about food safety, can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

Celebrate the Holidays – the Fun and Healthy Way

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Keeping your family healthy this holiday season can be tough. With festive cakes, pastries and candy lined up in every aisle of the grocery store, it’s easy to fall off the healthy train.

Fortunately for us, MyPlate has done a fabulous job of creating a beautifully comprehensive list of ways to incorporate healthy habits into your next holiday gathering. Here are some tips that could help you coordinate a fun and healthy event for everyone!

  1. Make healthy habits part of your holiday celebration: Make activities, not food, the center of attention at your next event. This will keep your guests moving and their hands off all the snacks.
  2. Make foods look festive: Use healthy foods, such as nuts or veggies, to decorate your meals.
  3. Add a bit of “health” to your drinks: Serve fruit infused water, or make ice cubes out of juice.
  4. Savor the flavor: Instead of scarfing down a whole meal, take time to enjoy each and every bite.
  5. Incorporate MyPlate.com to make sure every food group is represented in your main dish.
  6. Make moving part of the event: Make sure the music is on and that your guests are dancing!
  7. Experiment with healthy recipes: Make healthy recipes a mandatory part of your party-planning.
  8. Make the cleaning process fun: Get the kids involved! It’ll keep the moving and it’ll help you get the job done faster.
  9. Shop smart and eat smart: Healthy food can be expensive, try to buy products that are in season and fit your budget.
  10. Be a cheerleader for healthy habits: Children are like sponges; the more they see you maintain a healthy lifestyle, the more they’re likely to do the same.

Stay healthy this holiday season; go to http://www.choosemyplate.gov recipe ideas, nutrition facts and healthy tips.