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USDA Tips to Help Keep Your Holidays Illness-Free

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 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EST), 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 such as 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 that they don’t become contaminated after preparation.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of dishes to make sure they are fully cooked and safe to eat. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees F with a three-minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 degrees F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 degrees F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 degrees F, and all poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F.

Fool-proof tips when cooking for groups:

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold by using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 degrees F, and cold items should remain below 40 degrees F.
  • Use several small plates when serving food.
  • Discard perishable foods left out for two 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 degrees F, the roast is safe to eat.
  • Remember that all cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb need a three-minute rest time before cutting or consuming.

Food Safety News

USDA Tips to Help Keep Your Holidays Illness-Free

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 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EST), 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 such as 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 that they don’t become contaminated after preparation.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of dishes to make sure they are fully cooked and safe to eat. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 degrees F with a three-minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 degrees F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 degrees F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 degrees F, and all poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees F.

Fool-proof tips when cooking for groups:

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold by using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 degrees F, and cold items should remain below 40 degrees F.
  • Use several small plates when serving food.
  • Discard perishable foods left out for two 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 degrees F, the roast is safe to eat.
  • Remember that all cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb need a three-minute rest time before cutting or consuming.

Food Safety News

Don’t Rinse Your Turkey and Other Thanksgiving Safety Tips

Despite what Julia Child might have told us during the height of her authority on all things related to home cooking, we should not be washing our raw poultry — especially not in the kitchen sink.

To ensure your family enjoys Thanksgiving without any gastrointestinal interruptions, Food Safety News has compiled a guide to Thanksgiving food safety, starting with one of the most important tips of all:

Don’t rinse your turkey

Rinsing raw poultry isn’t a very effective way to clean bacteria from your meal, but it is a great way to spread bacteria around your kitchen. Washing poultry aerosolizes bacteria and splashes it around onto anything within several feet of your sink.

Let the cooking process taking care of the bacteria. Plus, from a cooking perspective, you’ll want the turkey skin dry to be crispy when cooked.

Stay smart about preparing the turkey

Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator or in a pan of cold water, changing out the water as often as every half-hour. Start the thawing process at least 24 hours before you plan to start cooking.

If you bought a fresh turkey, keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cook.

If you decide to cook the turkey while it’s still frozen, you’ll need to cook it for 50 percent longer than the advised time.

Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board and knife for trimming the turkey. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the turkey and before touching anything else in the kitchen.

Turkey cooking times

The bigger the bird, the longer it’ll need to cook. Here are approximate cook times for turkey in an oven at 325 degrees F:

Unstuffed

4 to 6 lb. breast …… 1.5 to 2.5 hours
6 to 8 lb. breast …… 2.5 to 3.5 hours
8 to 12 lbs. ………….. 2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …………  3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …………. 3.75 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. ………… 4.25 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs. ………… 4.5 to 5 hours

Stuffed

8 to 12 lbs. …… 3 to 3.5 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …… 3.5 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …… 4 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. …… 4.25 to 4.75 hours
20 to 24 lbs. …… 4.75 to 5.25 hours

You’ll have to check for yourself to ensure that the bird is fully cooked in this amount of time.

Turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Trust a good thermometer over your eyes. Meat can appear cooked even when it hasn’t reached 165 degrees F, and it can sometimes appear pink well past that temperature.

Cook stuffing just as thoroughly

If you’re stuffing your turkey, combine the ingredients and perform the stuffing just before you plan to stick the bird in the oven. Aim for about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

Because it comes into contact with raw poultry, stuffing also needs to be cooked to a minimum 165 degrees F. If the turkey is done but the stuffing isn’t, remove the stuffing and bake it separately in a greased casserole dish.

Store leftovers promptly

Don’t leave dishes sitting at room temperature for more than two hours after taking them out of the oven or refrigerator. Refrigerate any foods made with perishable ingredients such as meat, milk or eggs. This includes pumpkin pie.

When storing leftovers, portion them out into shallow dishes so that they cool rapidly in the refrigerator or freezer. Cut breast meat into smaller pieces. Wings and legs can be left whole.

When thawing frozen leftovers, use the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave, rather than leaving frozen food out on the counter.

Food safety resources

For more information about how to safely handle, serve and store your holiday food, call 1-888-SAFEFOOD (FDA), 1-888-MPHOTLINE (USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline), email [email protected], or visit AskKaren.gov.

For some statistics, history, and FAQs about our native bird, visit the National Turkey Federation website.

Food Safety News

Don’t Rinse Your Turkey and Other Thanksgiving Safety Tips

Despite what Julia Child might have told us during the height of her authority on all things related to home cooking, we should not be washing our raw poultry — especially not in the kitchen sink.

To ensure your family enjoys Thanksgiving without any gastrointestinal interruptions, Food Safety News has compiled a guide to Thanksgiving food safety, starting with one of the most important tips of all:

Don’t rinse your turkey

Rinsing raw poultry isn’t a very effective way to clean bacteria from your meal, but it is a great way to spread bacteria around your kitchen. Washing poultry aerosolizes bacteria and splashes it around onto anything within several feet of your sink.

Let the cooking process taking care of the bacteria. Plus, from a cooking perspective, you’ll want the turkey skin dry to be crispy when cooked.

Stay smart about preparing the turkey

Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator or in a pan of cold water, changing out the water as often as every half-hour. Start the thawing process at least 24 hours before you plan to start cooking.

If you bought a fresh turkey, keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cook.

If you decide to cook the turkey while it’s still frozen, you’ll need to cook it for 50 percent longer than the advised time.

Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board and knife for trimming the turkey. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the turkey and before touching anything else in the kitchen.

Turkey cooking times

The bigger the bird, the longer it’ll need to cook. Here are approximate cook times for turkey in an oven at 325 degrees F:

Unstuffed

4 to 6 lb. breast …… 1.5 to 2.5 hours
6 to 8 lb. breast …… 2.5 to 3.5 hours
8 to 12 lbs. ………….. 2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …………  3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …………. 3.75 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. ………… 4.25 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs. ………… 4.5 to 5 hours

Stuffed

8 to 12 lbs. …… 3 to 3.5 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …… 3.5 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …… 4 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. …… 4.25 to 4.75 hours
20 to 24 lbs. …… 4.75 to 5.25 hours

You’ll have to check for yourself to ensure that the bird is fully cooked in this amount of time.

Turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Trust a good thermometer over your eyes. Meat can appear cooked even when it hasn’t reached 165 degrees F, and it can sometimes appear pink well past that temperature.

Cook stuffing just as thoroughly

If you’re stuffing your turkey, combine the ingredients and perform the stuffing just before you plan to stick the bird in the oven. Aim for about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.

Because it comes into contact with raw poultry, stuffing also needs to be cooked to a minimum 165 degrees F. If the turkey is done but the stuffing isn’t, remove the stuffing and bake it separately in a greased casserole dish.

Store leftovers promptly

Don’t leave dishes sitting at room temperature for more than two hours after taking them out of the oven or refrigerator. Refrigerate any foods made with perishable ingredients such as meat, milk or eggs. This includes pumpkin pie.

When storing leftovers, portion them out into shallow dishes so that they cool rapidly in the refrigerator or freezer. Cut breast meat into smaller pieces. Wings and legs can be left whole.

When thawing frozen leftovers, use the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave, rather than leaving frozen food out on the counter.

Food safety resources

For more information about how to safely handle, serve and store your holiday food, call 1-888-SAFEFOOD (FDA), 1-888-MPHOTLINE (USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline), email [email protected], or visit AskKaren.gov.

For some statistics, history, and FAQs about our native bird, visit the National Turkey Federation website.

Food Safety News

Trick-or-Treat Food Safety Tips for Halloween

Here are some simple steps, courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help children and parents have a fun – and safe – Halloween:

  • Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. Urge your children to wait until they get home and you have had a chance to inspect the contents of their “goody bags.”
  • To help prevent children from snacking, give them a light meal or snack before they head out — don’t send them out on an empty stomach.
  • Tell children not to accept — and especially not to eat — anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
  • Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.
  • Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

Here are some tips for having fun and safe Halloween parties at home:

  • If juice or cider is served to children at Halloween parties, make sure it is pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. Juice or cider that has not been treated will state it on the label.
  • No matter how tempting, don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter.
  • Before going bobbing for apples, an all-time favorite Halloween game, reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • “Scare” bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include, for example, finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings. Cold temperatures help keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. And don’t leave the food at room temperature for more than two hours.

The increasing availability of marijuana-infused edibles that look like candy is prompting warnings from law enforcement in some parts of the country. There are treats out there now containing cannabis that look like gummy candy, as well as pot-infused chocolates, mints and others, so take a close look before eating unfamiliar treats or allowing your child to do so.

FDA is also reminding the public that consumption of too much black licorice can be bad for some people, particularly those older than 40 who have heart problems. The agency notes, however, that a person would have to eat quite a bit of it in order to develop serious issues.

Food Safety News

Trick-or-Treat Food Safety Tips for Halloween

Here are some simple steps, courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help children and parents have a fun – and safe – Halloween:

  • Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. Urge your children to wait until they get home and you have had a chance to inspect the contents of their “goody bags.”
  • To help prevent children from snacking, give them a light meal or snack before they head out — don’t send them out on an empty stomach.
  • Tell children not to accept — and especially not to eat — anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
  • Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.
  • Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

Here are some tips for having fun and safe Halloween parties at home:

  • If juice or cider is served to children at Halloween parties, make sure it is pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. Juice or cider that has not been treated will state it on the label.
  • No matter how tempting, don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter.
  • Before going bobbing for apples, an all-time favorite Halloween game, reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • “Scare” bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include, for example, finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings. Cold temperatures help keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. And don’t leave the food at room temperature for more than two hours.

The increasing availability of marijuana-infused edibles that look like candy is prompting warnings from law enforcement in some parts of the country. There are treats out there now containing cannabis that look like gummy candy, as well as pot-infused chocolates, mints and others, so take a close look before eating unfamiliar treats or allowing your child to do so.

FDA is also reminding the public that consumption of too much black licorice can be bad for some people, particularly those older than 40 who have heart problems. The agency notes, however, that a person would have to eat quite a bit of it in order to develop serious issues.

Food Safety News

USDA Issues Food Safety Tips for People Affected by Hurricanes Iselle and Julio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued some food safety recommendations for the state of Hawaii due to the forecast for severe weather conditions related to Hurricanes Iselle and Julio.

Category 1 Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island by Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to about 84 miles per hour and flooding in some areas. After Iselle seemed to pick up strength on Wednesday, weather officials changed their outlook and said it was likely to maintain hurricane status after hitting land.

“What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength,” said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

However, Category 2 Hurricane Julio was expected to hit Hawaii as a tropical storm or low-level hurricane this weekend. Julio was close behind Iselle on Thursday but with higher maximum winds clocking in at about 99 miles per hour. Even so, weather officials said that Julio was likely to weaken by Thursday night and on into the weekend.

Both storms are expected to bring heavy rain, flash flooding, and strong wind gusts. This type of weather forecast presents the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food.

FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure that temperatures remain food-safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator and 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. Doing this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer. This “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods on hand that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. Any food in your freezer that is partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS will provide relevant food safety information as the storms progress from its Twitter feed @USDAFoodSafety. To get tweets about weather-related food safety issues affecting just your state, follow @HI_FSISAlert.

FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov  or m.AskKaren.gov on a smartphone. Mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores. Consumers can e-mail, chat with a live representative or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features from Mobile Ask Karen, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.

Food Safety News

USDA Issues Food Safety Tips for People Affected by Hurricanes Iselle and Julio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued some food safety recommendations for the state of Hawaii due to the forecast for severe weather conditions related to Hurricanes Iselle and Julio.

Category 1 Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island by Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to about 84 miles per hour and flooding in some areas. After Iselle seemed to pick up strength on Wednesday, weather officials changed their outlook and said it was likely to maintain hurricane status after hitting land.

“What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength,” said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

However, Category 2 Hurricane Julio was expected to hit Hawaii as a tropical storm or low-level hurricane this weekend. Julio was close behind Iselle on Thursday but with higher maximum winds clocking in at about 99 miles per hour. Even so, weather officials said that Julio was likely to weaken by Thursday night and on into the weekend.

Both storms are expected to bring heavy rain, flash flooding, and strong wind gusts. This type of weather forecast presents the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food.

FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure that temperatures remain food-safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator and 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. Doing this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer. This “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods on hand that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. Any food in your freezer that is partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS will provide relevant food safety information as the storms progress from its Twitter feed @USDAFoodSafety. To get tweets about weather-related food safety issues affecting just your state, follow @HI_FSISAlert.

FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov  or m.AskKaren.gov on a smartphone. Mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores. Consumers can e-mail, chat with a live representative or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features from Mobile Ask Karen, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.

Food Safety News

USDA Issues Food Safety Tips for People Affected by Hurricanes Iselle and Julio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued some food safety recommendations for the state of Hawaii due to the forecast for severe weather conditions related to Hurricanes Iselle and Julio.

Category 1 Hurricane Iselle was expected to arrive on the Big Island by Thursday evening, bringing heavy rains, winds gusting up to about 84 miles per hour and flooding in some areas. After Iselle seemed to pick up strength on Wednesday, weather officials changed their outlook and said it was likely to maintain hurricane status after hitting land.

“What ended up happening is the storm has resurged just enough to keep its hurricane strength,” said Mike Cantin, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

However, Category 2 Hurricane Julio was expected to hit Hawaii as a tropical storm or low-level hurricane this weekend. Julio was close behind Iselle on Thursday but with higher maximum winds clocking in at about 99 miles per hour. Even so, weather officials said that Julio was likely to weaken by Thursday night and on into the weekend.

Both storms are expected to bring heavy rain, flash flooding, and strong wind gusts. This type of weather forecast presents the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food.

FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure that temperatures remain food-safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator and 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. Doing this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer. This “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods on hand that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. Any food in your freezer that is partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS will provide relevant food safety information as the storms progress from its Twitter feed @USDAFoodSafety. To get tweets about weather-related food safety issues affecting just your state, follow @HI_FSISAlert.

FSIS’ YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov  or m.AskKaren.gov on a smartphone. Mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores. Consumers can e-mail, chat with a live representative or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features from Mobile Ask Karen, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.

Food Safety News

FSIS Offers Food Safety Tips for Areas Affected Post-Hurricane Arthur

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued some food safety recommendations for the Mid-Atlantic states potentially affected by severe weather conditions related to Hurricane Arthur (downgraded Saturday to a Post-Tropical Storm).
The National Weather Service, which upgraded Arthur from tropical storm to hurricane status on Thursday, said that the storm was meandering off the east coast of Florida and was expected to slowly drift northwest overnight before turning north later. A steady strengthening is forecast as the storm approaches the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This type of weather forecast presents the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food.

FSIS recommends that consumers take the following steps to reduce food waste and the risk of foodborne illness during severe weather events.

Steps to follow if the power goes out:

  • Keep appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees F or lower in the refrigerator and 0 degrees F or lower in the freezer.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so don’t overfill the containers.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours.
  • Group foods together in the freezer — this “igloo” effect helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Keep a few day’s worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Place meat and poultry to one side of the freezer or on a tray to prevent cross-contamination of thawing juices.
  • Use dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible during an extended power outage. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

Steps to follow after a weather emergency:

  • Check the temperature inside your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. Any food in your freezer that has partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below.
  • Never taste a food to decide if it’s safe.
  • When in doubt, throw it out.

FSIS will provide relevant food safety information as the storm progresses from its Twitter feed @USDAFoodSafety. To get tweets about weather-related food safety issues affecting just your state, follow @FL_FSISAlert, @GA_FSISAlert, @SC_FSISAlert, @NC_FSISAlert, and @VA_FSISAlert

The FSIS YouTube video “Food Safety During Power Outages” has instructions for keeping frozen and refrigerated food safe. The publication “A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes” can be downloaded and printed for reference during a power outage.

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov  or m.AskKaren.gov on a smartphone. Mobile Ask Karen can also be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores. Consumers can email, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features from Mobile Ask Karen, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.

Food Safety News

Safe Grilling Tips for the Fourth of July

Since the Fourth of July is the high point of summer grilling season for many American families, we at Food Safety News like to remind everyone this time of year of a few simple safety tips to keep your Independence Day free of foodborne illness.

The two biggest safety concerns when grilling involve the threat of cross-contamination and undercooked meat. Both of those issues are addressed by remembering four key concepts outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Clean

Start with clean surfaces and clean hands. Be sure that you and your guests wash your hands before preparing or handling food. Most importantly, make sure that the surfaces that come in contact with raw and cooked foods are clean before you start and are washed frequently.

Separate

Any potential pathogens on uncooked meat can easily be transferred to other foods or surfaces. Raw meats and poultry should be prepared separately from vegetables and cooked foods. As you chop meats and veggies, be sure to use separate cutting boards, knives and utensils. If you have handled raw meat with your hands, make sure to wash them thoroughly before handling any other food or utensils.

Cook

Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly all the way through. When cooked on a grill, meat and poultry often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to make sure you’ve reached the recommended internal temperatures:

145° F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal, and fish.

160° F for hamburgers and other ground beef.

165° F for all poultry and pre-cooked meats like hot dogs.

Place cooked meats on a clean surface, not on the dish that held them when they were raw. The juices left on the plate from raw meat can spread bacteria to cooked food.

If you are smoking meats, the temperature in the smoker should be maintained between 225° F and 300° F for safety. Again, check the internal temperature of the smoked meat with a meat thermometer to ensure it’s fully cooked.

Chill

Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40° F and 140° F, so perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is higher than 90°F, food should not sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has been sitting out too long.

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods can be kept hot on the grill and cold foods can be kept chilled with ice packs or ice sources in a cooler.

Enjoy

With those four key concepts in mind, have a great — and safe — Fourth of July!

Food Safety News

Food-Safety Tips for Easter Eggs

Easter Sunday is coming right up, so here are some important food-safety tips to remember this time of year when you’re decorating, cooking and/or hiding Easter eggs:

Be sure and inspect the eggs before purchasing them, making sure they are not dirty or cracked. Dangerous bacteria may enter a cracked egg.

Store eggs in their original cartons in the refrigerator rather than in the refrigerator door.

Wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water and rinse them before handling the eggs when cooking, cooling, dyeing and hiding them. Also thoroughly wash utensils, counter tops and anything else the eggs will come into contact with.

It’s a good idea to use one set of eggs for dyeing, decorating and hunting and a second set for eating. Or, you can use colorful plastic Easter eggs with treats or toys inside for your Easter egg hunt.

If you’re planning to eat the Easter eggs you dye, be sure to use food-grade dyes only. You can even make your own egg dyes from common and easily available foods.

If you’re having an Easter egg hunt, consider your hiding places carefully. Avoid areas where the eggs might come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects or lawn chemicals.

Make sure you find all the eggs you’ve hidden and then refrigerate them within two hours. Discard any cracked eggs.

As long as the eggs are NOT out of refrigeration for more than two hours, they will be safe to eat. Do not eat eggs that have been out of refrigeration for more than two hours. Refrigerate hard-cooked eggs in their shells and use them within one week.

Refrigerators should always keep foods at 40 degrees F or colder. If you’re not sure about yours, check the temperature with an appliance thermometer.

If you are planning to use colored eggs as decorations (for centerpieces, etc.) and the eggs will be out of refrigeration for many hours or several days, discard them after they have served their decorative purpose.

If you will be painting and decorating hollowed-out eggshells, use pasteurized shell eggs so you don’t expose yourself to Salmonella from the raw egg while blowing it through holes poked in the shell. To sanitize the outside of the egg, wash it in hot water and rinse it in 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per half-cup of water.

Observing these food-safety tips will make it a fun and healthy Easter for you and your family.

Food Safety News

First Down Food Safety Tips for your Super Bowl Party

In order to win the game, the first downs have to keep coming without the penalties. Super Bowl Sunday will be a long day of first downs and a long day of eating! It’s the second highest day of food consumption in the U.S., and that means hosts and guests need to have their defense ready to keep foodborne illness from scoring on the party.

Super Bowl parties should be remembered for a great time and not the place where the food made you sick. We’re offering fans some important game day tips to keep the party free of food safety penalties.

Illegal use of hands

Before and after preparing or handling food, always wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Unclean hands are a major food penalty for you and your guests. Use clean platters to serve and restock food, and keep surfaces clean.

Pass Interference

Keep raw meats separate from other foods. To avoid a penalty here, make sure raw meats do not come in contact with other foods on the buffet. Never place cooked food back on the same plate that previously held raw food unless the plate has been first washed in hot, soapy water.

Personal Foul

Don’t cause a personal foul that’s risky to the health of your guests. Always use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked to the right temperature.  Color and texture are not indicators of doneness. Ground beef should be cooked to 160˚F, poultry should be cooked to 165˚F and steaks should reach 145˚F with a three-minute rest time.

Holding

Avoid this penalty by keeping hot food hot and cold food cold.  Do not keep food on the buffet at room temperature for more than two hours.  Hot foods need to have a hot source to keep them out of the Danger Zone.  Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40˚F – 140˚F.  The same rule applies for cold foods – they need to be nestled in ice to remain safe for guests.  If there is a delay of game and you didn’t practice effective clock management with the buffet, don’t eat or serve the food.  When in doubt, throw it out. Replenish it with fresh servings.

Food safety is the winning play for your Super Bowl party.  For more game rules, visit USDA’s virtual representative, “Ask Karen,” available at AskKaren.gov.  Food safety experts are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET at the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Access food safety answers anytime from your mobile device at m.askkaren.gov.

First Down Food Safety Tips for your Super Bowl Party” by Donna Karlsons, Food Safety and Inspection service (FSIS) Food Safety Education Staff, first appeared on the USDA Blog on January 30, 2014.

Food Safety News

CDC Shares Food Safety Tips Via Twitter

On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the International Food Information Council Foundation and other food safety experts flocked to Twitter with the tag #CDCchat to give tips on keeping holiday feasts safe and healthy.

Read some of the top tips below or click here to read the summary.

Food Safety News

Fresh Summit 2013: 10 Tips for Mobile

Today’s consumers are practically glued to their phones 24/7. Moreover, 74% of smartphone owners uses their device for some type of shopping-related activity, according to Dr. Carrie Colbert, a consultant and professor who led PMA’s education session on “Engaging the Mobile Shopper.”

So how can businesses start to capture some of those mobile consumers? Colbert offered 10 steps to get started.

1. Mobilize your website. Your site needs to be optimized to look good on a smartphone or tablet screen and load quickly. “Don’t lose a customer because it’s taking a little too long to load,” said Colbert.

2. Watch your competitors. Find out what direct and indirect competitors are doing well — and not so well.

3. Start using mobile yourself, and use it in a way that your customers would use it. The things that irritate you will probably irritate them, Colbert said.

4. Experiment with a mobile ad. Target sites or apps, such as a recipes app, where consumers are already thinking about food and shopping.

5. Start building your mobile opt in list. Whenever you ask for your customer’s information, such when they want to access a coupon, ask if you can send them alerts via text messages.

6. Create an SMS or QR code promotion. Just make sure you’re providing customers with something useful, like a recipe or coupon, and you’re not spamming them.

7. Think video, if it applies to what you do. Colbert gave an example of linking to a video on how to cut up a pomegranate from an ad for pomegranates.

8. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Your mobile marketing needs to complement what you’re doing elsewhere, said Colbert, whether it’s in-store, in your newsletter or website, or in traditional ads.

9. Test and measure. Do rigorous quality assurance testing to make sure your mobile ad or other venture works as it should. Also recognize that you’re measuring engagement — how many clicks did the ad get — not necessarily a significant increase in sales, said Colbert.

10. Get help. Colbert suggested suppliers find a retailer to partner with, but this could go both ways.

Supermarket News

Volume feeders give suppliers tips at Monterey conference

A chefs panel made up of three representatives from the volume feed sector of foodservice discussed how produce suppliers can make their jobs easier at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference in Monterey, July 26-28.

Stefano Cordova, senior vice president of food and beverage innovation for the Au Bon Pain chain, discussed how the use of produce has increased tremendously on his company’s menu over the last few years. He said the firm has gone from 22 produce items to 57. Produce, he said, is a great item to work with it because it is a multi-colored work of art without the chef having to do anything to it. “The produce does the work for us,” he said.

Cordova, however, said quality is the most important element of any fresh produce item and there has to be a great deal of trust and collaboration between the produce supplier and the foodservice operator. He said many produce items are served in their rawest forms and there obviously cannot be any issues related to food safety or any other problems that would reflect badly on the restaurant chain. He likes working with branded product where the supplier has the same risk and motivation to provide top-quality products.

This executive chef reminded the audience that most food trends start at the restaurant level so he urged the supplier community to bring him new ideas.

Speaking to the same theme was Darryl Mickler, senior director of culinary innovation and the executive chef at the Chili’s Grill & Bar chain. He took the audience through the menu development steps at Chili’s, which can be a time-consuming process. From the planting of an idea, his culinary staff has to develop recipes that need to be tasted and tested and test marketed, and analyzed and re-analyzed before they ever hit total menu inclusion.

However, Mickler said he loves innovation and urged the audience to let him know early in the development stage when a new or better item is coming down the pike. He said planting the seed early is a great idea because it does take a while to germinate, but the results can be great.

He said produce is finding a home on restaurant menus because it offers freshness and flavor, two sought-after components of any dish. For example, he said Chili’s recently switched to the use of fresh avocados, which involved increased costs that will not be recouped via increased pricing but does add to the value the menu offers.

He revealed that the chain’s top customers — both millennials and health-conscious boomers — are looking for fresher and healthier menu items, and that’s driving Chili’s menu changes.

The final chef panelist was Rafi Taherian, executive director of Yale Dining, where more than 11,000 university students are fed every day. Because these students are the nation’s future leaders, this executive chef wants their college dining experiences to be memorable. He runs nine retail foodservice venues for undergraduates as well as four graduate dining halls and one golf course restaurant.

Taherian went down a list of his top 10 needs that started with flavor at the top and ended with versatility. In between are such produce-friendly attributes as color, texture and nutritional density. Many of his needs point to the increased use of fresh produce and that is the mission he has been on for the past four years. He increased the use of produce more than 10 percent this past year. A bit disconcerting to him was that his food costs took a big jump also, which he said he needs to examine. In the previous three years, increasing the use of fresh produce had not seen an inordinate jump in his food costs.

The increase in produce use, Taherian said is directly related to his goal of increasing the percentage of plant-based menu items and “seducing” his customers with taste.

While his costs did go up, the Yale dining halls have also registered an off-the-charts increase in customer satisfaction this past year. Though pleased with the big jump, Taherian quipped that continuing to get such high marks is unsustainable because “20 percent of the students wake up every morning hating everybody,” including the food they eat.

Amy Myrdal Miller of the Culinary Institute of America was the moderator of the panel and revealed that one of the top initiatives of CIA is to add more produce items to menus. She said a panel of chefs looks at menu priorities and their top three over the last several years have been to reduce sodium, increase the use of produce and improve carbohydrate quality with the use of more grains.

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