University of Wisconsin-Stout

Nov. 16, 2011

Food safety issues cause about 5,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and sicken millions more.

The holiday season can be an especially dangerous time for food-borne illnesses. Specialty foods often are prepared at home, food sometimes is left out at large gatherings for extended periods of time and there are plenty of leftovers.

Most food-related illnesses can be avoided, according to Naveen Chikthimmah, who teaches food science at University of Wisconsin-Stout. “While enjoying holiday food is important, not letting that food become a source of infection is more important, especially if you are the host,” Chikthimmah said.

Food safety is discussed in Chikthimmah’s Food Technology class. As part of the class, students must research a food safety problem, such as whether or not to buy unpasteurized apple cider or whether to use fresh eggs when making homemade egg nog.

Chikthimmah and students from his class have a variety of tips (see attached list) for safely preparing and serving food during the holidays.

For example, it is recommended that turkeys not be stuffed when cooked; cheese and deli meats that have been sitting out for more than two hours should not be consumed; and refrigerated leftovers should be consumed within five days.

While a healthy person may experience minor symptoms after consuming contaminated food, such food can have serious and potentially deadly consequences for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. “Food should be prepared, stored and served with these risk groups in mind,” Chikthimmah said.

In another course Chikthimmah teaches, Experimental Foods, students examine aspects of food science and food safety. On a recent day, they tested how various cooking methods affect quality and safety of poultry meat. To see a related video, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/uwstoutvideos.

Erin Molzner, a senior from Sheboygan majoring in food systems and technology, is more aware of food safety now when she goes home for the holidays. “People underestimate the power of bacteria,” Molzner said. “If food sits out for too long, for example, it can make a lot of people sick.”

The food systems and technology program at UW Stout has five concentration areas, including food science and food communication. Students integrate a range of disciplines, such as chemistry, engineering, business, nutrition and microbiology. To learn more, go to http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsfst/index.cfm.

UW-Stout also offers an undergraduate program in dietetics and a graduate program in food and nutritional sciences.

Holiday Food Safety Tips

Following are holiday food safety tips from Naveen Chikthimmah, assistant professor of food science at UW-Stout.

Turkeys

Thawing: If you buy a frozen turkey, plan for the time it takes to thaw the bird in the refrigerator. It may take up to two days to thaw even a small bird (eight to 12 pounds) in the refrigerator. If you buy turkey from the refrigerated section, consider buying it no longer than two days before cooking.

Stuffing: Buy turkey without the stuffing for enhanced food safety. It also is recommended to prepare stuffing separately to avoid excessive handling of raw poultry and ensure that the bird is cooked to the right internal temperature.

Ready-to-eat foods

Cheese, cold-cut meat trays (including mail orders), fruit and vegetable trays and dips should be refrigerated continuously until the time of serving. Summer sausage and salami are exceptions because they are acidic and have a lower moisture content. If the trays have been left out in the open at room temperature for longer than two hours, then the food should not be saved.

Personal hygiene

Most cases of food-related illnesses in the U.S. are caused by improper handling and cross-contamination from bare hand contact. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling food during the preparation process.

If you are sick, do not prepare or handle food.

When handling food, tie down your hair and wear a clean apron.

Other tips

Never allow cooked foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees) for more than two hours.

Plan to use leftovers promptly. When in doubt, throw it out. Typically, cooked meats should not be kept in the refrigerator for longer than five days.

Choose pasteurized apple cider over unpasteurized. If making egg nog at home, avoid using shell eggs. Instead, use pasteurized liquid eggs. Store-bought egg nog is sold pasteurized.

Raw oysters are not advised for consumption by the primary risk groups.

Cook food, especially raw meats and poultry, to the minimum recommended internal temperature.

Refer to the Food Safety and Inspection Service website for internal cooking temperatures for various meats, http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Seasonal_Food_Safety_Fact_Sheets/index.asp.

The Food and Drug Administration offers holiday food safety tips at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM191812.pdf.

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