Safe Food Handling For Holiday Season

Peter Oshiro
Peter Oshiro

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Thanksgiving is coming up - and that means lots of family parties. But did you know preparing a lot of food can leave the door open for uninvited guests? Bacteria that can make you sick.

Getting ready for a big family get together? First, instructs Peter Oshiro, Sanitation Branch manager of the state Health Department, do this:"Make sure your hands are washed. You don't want to spread your illnesses to other people. Wash thoroughly for 20 seconds. A good thing to do is to sing Happy Birthday twice."

The right way to cook meats and poultry is with a thermometer. Oshiro says, "If you cook foods at the proper temperature you should be able to kill all the pathogens causing bacteria that might make you ill."

Pathogens like staphylococcus, clostridium, noroviruses, e. Coli, and salmonella. Depending on what you're cooking temperatures vary. For instance cook turkey to 165 degrees. Warns Oshiro, "One of the big things from poultry is salmonella infections, and that's killed at 165. For roast beef it's 145, ground meats 155 F."

Lots of people cook the ingredients for potato or mac salad, and toss them together while still warm. Don't! Oshiro says if you put it in the fridge that way, it could take all night to cool, and bacteria can grow.

Instead, Oshiro says to cook the components separately and cool them down separately before you combine them.

Kitchen rags and sponges carry a lot of bacteria. Make sure it's a little damp and throw it in the micro for a minute every day to kill the germs.

Tips from the Department of Health:


Bacteria are everywhere but a few types especially like to crash parties.  Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Noroviruses frequent people's hands and E. coli, Salmonella and other harmful microorganisms may be present in undercooked or contaminated foods.  Unlike microorganisms that can cause food to spoil, harmful or pathogenic bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted.  Prevention is the most effective way to keep food safe.

If illness occurs, however, contact a health professional and describe the symptoms.  You should also contact the Department of Health's Disease Investigation Branch at 586-4586 if you think your illness is food related.


Food safety for you holiday meal begins with planning.  Determine your menu and decide how you will serve your food.  Will you be able to keep hot foods above 140°F and cold foods below 45°F if they are to be left out for more than two hours?  Use chaffing dishes or keep large portions of food in the oven until ready to serve.  Use beds of ice to keep the macaroni salad, poke, and other cold foods cold.  When shopping, shop for your groceries last and do not leave perishable foods in the car.  It is also a good idea to bring a cooler with ice or ice substitute to store your milk and other perishables if you have a long drive home, or if you have other stops to make.  Make sure all perishables are placed in your refrigerator of freezer as soon as you get home!!   Make sure that both you and the grocery store bag all raw meats and poultry separate from all other foods to prevent blood and other raw meat juices from contaminating any other foods.

If you are planning on purchasing a frozen turkey, or other large portions of frozen meat, you will need to do so 4-5 days in advance in order to safely thaw it in your refrigerator.  You can also thaw a small turkey in the microwave if you are going to cook it immediately after thawing.  Follow your microwave instructions carefully due to varied differences between microwave ability and power.  You may also thaw a turkey in a sink.  After cleaning the sink, put the turkey in a heavy plastic freezer bag secured with a twist tie.  Cover the bird with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.  Depending on the size of your turkey, this will take from 4 to 12 hours.

You should have a thermometer in your refrigerator to ensure that the temperature is being kept at 45°F or below.


Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any food.

Be sure to wash your hands after handling any raw meats or poultry.  Raw meats and poultry may be contaminated with harmful bacteria.  Try to handle or prepare all raw meats and poultry at the same time so you don't cross contaminate ready to eat foods or other food items during their preparation.  You should also keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean.  Always serve food on clean plates, trays, or platters - never re-use containers or plates that were previously used to hold or prepare raw poultry or meats.  Bacteria that may have been present in raw meat blood and juices can cross-contaminate the food to be served.  Prepare ready to eat foods or foods that do not require cooking on separate cutting boards from the ones you use for raw meats and poultry.


If you are cooking foods ahead of time for your party be sure to cook foods thoroughly to safe temperatures.  You should use an accurate cooking thermometer in order to be sure that your food has been safely cooked to proper temperatures.  These thermometers can be purchased for less than $7.00 at most large grocery stores or cooking supply shops.  When taking temperatures, make sure that the tip of the probe is in the center of the thickest portion of meat being checked.  Cook beef, veal and lamb to at least 145°F.  Bake whole poultry to 180°F, poultry breasts to 170°F (USDA recently recommended the higher temperature for whole poultry and poultry breasts), and ground turkey and all other poultry to 165°F.  All other meats, ground red meats and fish not intended to be eaten raw should be cooked to 160°F.


Try not to cook more food than your kitchen's refrigerator/freezer and oven can handle.  If you don't already have enough of the proper equipment to keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold, you may be putting your guests at risk.  Maybe try a pot luck and have your guests share the cooking duties.  If you are cooking large amounts of food in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer until serving.  This encourages rapid, even cooling.  Reheat hot foods rapidly to 165°F.

Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250°F), or cold in the refrigerator until serving time.  This way food will be held at a safe temperature for a longer period of time.  Replace empty plates rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already has old food on it.  Many people's hands may have been taking food from the dish, which has already been sitting out at room temperature.


Always be sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables prior to preparation and serving. Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten, under running tap water before packing them.   Keep cut cantaloupes and melons, and other vegetables on ice, preferably below 45°F.


Perishable foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.  Keep track of how long foods have been sitting out on the table and immediately refrigerate or discard anything that was left out for more than two hours.


Foods that have been cooked to the proper temperatures should be held at 140°F or warmer by using the oven, chaffing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays.  Cold foods should be held at 45°F or below.  Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice, otherwise use small serving trays and replace often (every two hours).


After the meal it is always important to put away all leftovers promptly, remembering the two hour rule.  All meats should be cut off the bone and placed in shallow containers (less than 2" deep).  All other foods should also be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated or frozen promptly.  Do not forget to refrigerate the noodles and rice too!  You should use your leftover meats, turkey, stuffing and other perishable cooked foods within three to four days.  If you are not going to use these foods in this time frame, consider dividing them up and freezing them for later use.  Always reheat all foods rapidly to 165°F prior to eating.