This is the time of year for those special times – food with family and friends, parties and banquets, leftovers and, of course, wonderful food gifts.
Holiday time is often turkey time when we get to enjoy the 46 million birds (one-sixth of all turkeys produced) at Thanksgiving and another 22 million at Christmas. There is nothing better than a plate with moist turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy and pumpkin pie.
There are also numerous other meats enjoyed at holiday gatherings, such as a rib roast, ham or even the crown roast of lamb or pork.
Because holidays are special times, we often tend to spend more money for that exceptionally tender or specialty meat or poultry.
Whatever your choice, be sure to include a simple instant-read food thermometer to determine when the meat has reached a safe temperature.
For special holiday meals, we get busy and want everything perfect – and perfectly safe.
Once your purchase of meat is home, refrigerate or freeze it immediately. Cook or freeze fresh poultry within one or two days; other fresh meats should be cooked or frozen within three to five days.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been five outbreaks of foodborne illness, 330 illnesses, 56 hospitalizations and one death associated with turkey over the last five years in Colorado.
Proper care, proper temperatures for cooking and proper handling of the meat and food items are essential.
Hams are another common meat for the holiday, whether it is fully cooked or needs cooking. Fully cooked hams may be eaten cold or reheated to 140 F. When storing them, observe the “use-by” date if it was sealed at the plant; use store-wrapped cooked ham portions within three to five days. “Cook-before-eating” hams need to be cooked to 145 F and allowed to rest for at least three minutes to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present, and they should be eaten within seven days.
Roasting is the typical, recommended method for tender meats. The meat is placed on a rack in a shallow, uncovered pan with about 2 cups of liquid in the bottom. To keep the meat tender and to minimize shrinkage, a moderately low oven temperature of 325 F should be used.
It is not recommended to cook any meat or poultry at temperatures lower than 325 F because they remain in the “danger zone” (40 degrees to 135 degrees) too long. The danger zone is the temperature range that bacteria can double every 20 minutes.
According to CDC, from 2010 to 2014 there were 171 foodborne illness outbreaks in Colorado involving more than 5,000 people, and salmonella was linked to 2,588 of these cases.
Since our beef, pork, lamb and veal are much leaner these days, overcooking can dry the meat. Cook all meats to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F measured with a food thermometer (fish to 155 F and poultry to 165 F). Be sure to allow the meat to rest for three to 15 minutes before carving or serving. This allows the temperature to even out, the texture to stabilize and the juices to be reabsorbed.
If you are going to be involved in any part of preparing a special meal, relax. Try to prepare in advance for the least stress and best food safety. The week before, organize dishes, flatware, centerpieces and glasses. Gravy, potatoes, carrots, celery can be peeled and cut one to three days in advance and stored in water in the fridge. Bread and dry ingredients for stuffing can be prepared one to five days in advance. Pies, desserts, vegetables and side dish casseroles can be prepared at least one to two days in advance and refrigerated. All vegetables and fruits can be washed under running cool water up to 24 hours in advance, cut up and stored in the fridge until preparation.
May you enjoy this month of friends, family and feasting.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.