Avoiding the 'Danger Zone' this Holiday Season

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jordan J. Broadway
  • 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron
The holidays are right around the corner, and they would not be the same without deliciously cooked meals. 

With all of the food items being prepared during this time for potlucks, parties, and gatherings, remember to maintain proper food safety.

Bacteria naturally occur on produce and your hands. Prior to preparing your holiday meal, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds or about the time is takes to sing "The Birthday Song." 

Also, be sure to wash any produce you plan to incorporate into your meal. 

Ensure foods are cooked thoroughly and held at the proper temperatures, which will prevent potential food-borne illnesses from occurring. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million people suffer from food-borne illnesses each year - meaning one in five people in the United States! 

One of the biggest food safety concerns during the holidays is food left out for too long and dropping below a safe temperature range. 

To ensure your meals are safe to eat, follow these simple tips and suggestions:

Bacteria also naturally occur in most meats, so ensuring your meats are cooked to the proper temperature is a must. 

The two most popular meats served during the holidays are turkey and ham.  The weight of your turkey or ham determines how long it should be cooked to reach a safe internal temperature.  Turkeys and hams are to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees and 145 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. 

The chart below gives you time guidelines to cook the turkey; however, the best way to ensure it is safe to eat is to measure the internal temperature with a cooking thermometer.

Weight of Turkey Roasting Time (Unstuffed) Roasting Time (Stuffed)
10 to 18 pounds 3 to 3.5 hours 3.75 to 4.5 hours
18 to 22 pounds 3.5 to 4 hours 4.5 to 5 hours
22 to 24 pounds 4 to 4.5 hours 5 to 5.5 hours
24 to 29 pounds 4.5 to 5 hours 5.5 to 6.25 hours

After everyone is "stuffed," what do you do with the leftover food? Keep foods out of the temperature "danger zone," which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Do not let prepared foods stand without reheating or refrigeration for more than four hours, especially if they contain meat or eggs. 

A good rule of thumb is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.  When reheating your leftovers, ensure the food temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit - use your handy thermometer to check the temperature.

Using these tips throughout the holidays will keep your family safe from food-borne illnesses while enjoying great holiday meals.  Ensuring proper food safety is one more way to show your family and friends your love and care during this time of celebration. 

Tis' the season for family bonding and delicious and meals - Happy Holidays!