The holidays are a time when Latinos celebrate religious, social, and family traditions passed down from generation to generation. Latinos celebrate Navidad and the farewell to the old year with joy and wishes for prosperity in the New Year. House parties and traditional foods are popular during this transition period. But it is also during this time of the year when you could make your family and guests sick if you don’t follow basic food safety steps.
While we’re sure you all have your favorite traditional recipes, we have a few recommendations to keep in mind while preparing those mouthwatering dishes passed down from our “abuelas” (grandmothers). Here are some tips to help hosts and guests eat safely at holiday parties.
Before you start, always wash your hands before you start preparing foods following these simple steps: wet your hands, lather with soap, scrub for at least 20 seconds, rinse with clean water, and dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them; skipping this step is a top cause of foodborne illnesses.
Wash cutting surfaces, and utensils. Always serve food on clean plates and avoid using those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Otherwise, bacteria that may have been present in raw meat juices can cross contaminate the food to be served. Replace empty platters instead of adding fresh food to a dish that already had food in it. People's hands may have been touching the dish while taking food from it, or the dish could also has been sitting out at room temperature too long. Use clean utensils to serve food plates and not those used in preparation of the raw food.
Separate raw and cooked foods so you don't cause cross contamination. That is, transferring bacteria from raw food onto ready-to eat food. For example, if you are preparing a ham and raw veggies for a dip platter, don’t let the raw meat come in contact with the vegetables, or food that does not require further cooking such as sliced, cooked meat and cheese.
Use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe internal temperature. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality reasons, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. And keep in mind: If you're transporting hot, cooked food from one location to another, keep it hot by carrying it in an insulated container. Need more information about food thermometers, visit FSIS.gov.
Chill leftovers within two hours of cooking. Keep track of how long items have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything out longer than two hours. You never want to leave perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles in the “Danger Zone” over two hours. The danger zone is between 40 and 140 °F where bacteria multiply rapidly. After two hours, enough bacteria may have grown in your food to make partygoers sick. Exceptions to the danger zone include ready-to-eat items like cookies, crackers, bread and whole fruit.
No one wants to end a family gathering or a “fiesta” in the emergency room of a hospital, but that’s what could happen if food isn’t handled, served, and store safely. Bacteria are party crashers, and the only holiday gift they bring is foodborne illness.