A happy holiday means following food safety guidelines

Family and friends gather in the kitchen and around the table during the holidays. But nobody wants to miss the fun times with family and friends because of foodborne illness. Follow these food safety guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination.

Plan ahead—Thawing turkey in the refrigerator will require about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. A 20-pound bird will defrost in about five to six days. A thawed turkey can safely remain in the refrigerator for one to two days before cooking. Turkey can be submerged in cold tap water for thawing. The water should be changed every 30 minutes and the turkey cooked immediately after it is thawed.

Separate—Prevent cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards for raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods. Defrost meats in a container to prevent the fluids from dripping onto other items in the refrigerator.

Clean—The most important thing a cook can do to keep food safe is to wash hands for 20 seconds before and after preparing foods. Keep the kitchen and utensils clean. Rinse fruits and vegetables. There is no need to rinse meat or poultry because it will be cooked. Rinsing meats may spread bacteria to kitchen surfaces.

Cook—The only way to know when foods have reached the correct temperatures is by using a food thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food; make sure it doesn’t touch bone, fat or gristle; and check the temperature in two places. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service indicates the following guidelines for safe temperatures:

Poultry: 165 degrees F. If poultry is stuffed, the center of the stuffing must reach 165 degrees F;

Casseroles and combination dishes: 165 degrees F;

Ground Meat: 160 degrees F; and

Steaks, chops and roasts of beef, pork, lamb or veal: 145 degrees F.

Chill—Refrigerate perishables and leftover foods within two hours. If trying to cool a large quantity, such as a pot of soup, divide into smaller containers to allow the food to cool more quickly.

Handling leftovers—The standard guideline is four-day throwaway. Some foods will last longer, but some should be thrown out sooner. A new phone app is available for download. For more information go to food.unl.edu/four-day-throw-away.

Remember to keep food safe for an enjoyable holiday season. Practice good personal hygiene, cook and store foods properly, and prevent cross-contamination from raw poultry or meat.