Holiday food safety myths
Handle holiday foods safely to avoid the "24-hour bug" or "stomach flu" which may be a foodborne illness. Be aware of the popular food and food-handling myths:
- MYTH: If food smells good and tastes okay, it must be good. WRONG! Bacteria that cause many foodborne illnesses do not change the taste, smell or appearance. Bacteria love to grow when the food temperature is in the "danger zone" (between 40 and 140 degrees F.). If the food is too hot or too cold for bacteria to grow, it is safe. Food being served hot should be kept refrigerated until ready to serve. Then, it should be quickly reheated to 165 degrees F. and kept hot (above 140 degrees F.). Food should not be left at room temperature or in the "danger zone" for more than 2 hours.
- MYTH: The food is cooked, so it won't spoil.WRONG! Cooked food held for more than 2 hours without refrigeration or a heat source is in the "danger zone" when bacteria grow and multiply. This is true for protein-rich foods such as meat, chicken and egg dishes (e.g. grilled chicken wings, pumpkin cheesecake, eggnog, ribs, etc.).
- MYTH: My kitchen is clean and I always wash my hands so the food I brought could not make anyone sick. WRONG! Your food was safe when it left your kitchen, but how was it handled after it arrived at the potluck? Hot and cold food can become unsafe if they sit on the buffet table from noon until 5:00 p.m. If food will not be eaten within two hours, provide a controlled environment. Set containers of cold foods in a large pan of crushed ice. Keep hot foods hot by using sterno, slow cookers or chafing dishes. Keep covers on food to keep it hot or cold. Serve cooked food in several small containers rather than in huge platters or bowls. When the small serving containers are empty, replace them rather than add fresh food to a dish that already held food.
- MYTH: No bacteria could possibly live in my eggnog with all that rum and bourbon. WRONG! Eggnog should never be made with raw eggs and the addition of alcohol will not kill Salmonella bacteria that may be in uncooked egg-rich food. Use pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes or heat the egg mixture in a double-boiler to 160 degrees. Commercial eggnog is pasteurized to proper temperatures.
Revised by Carol Ann Burtness, University of Minnesota Extension educator, 2011. Peer reviewed by Suzanne Driessen, University of Minnesota Extension educator, 2012