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USDA Food Safety Guidelines for the Impending Storm

USDA Food Safety Guidelines for the Impending Storm

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These food safety guidelines from the USDA are important to know in case of severe weather conditions to help you avoid illness and food waste.

In anticipation of a severe snowstorm headed for the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, the USDA has published a list of food safety recommendations in case of power outages. Key concerns include minimizing the risk of foodborne illness and the reduction of food waste. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service also has a video on food safety on YouTube, and a downloadable publication for reference.

Major steps to take if the power goes out include monitoring the temperature of both your freezer and refrigerator for safe temperatures (40 degrees or lower in the fridge, zero degrees or lower in the freezer), freezing non-immediate food items including milk, meat, and poultry; grouping foods together so they stay colder longer, and having coolers for more storage.

Although you may be so inclined, the USDA does not recommend putting food outside in the ice and snow, as it may attract wild animals or thaw later on. Additionally, you should freeze water in several containers before the storm to help keep your food cold.

If any perishable food (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs) has been left out for more than two hours above 40 degrees, throw it out. Never taste food to check if it’s safe and lastly: When in doubt, throw it out.

For the complete of precautions to take, read, download, and print out the Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety During Severe Storms & Hurricanes.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

Food Safety - Education Materials and Information Resources

It's important for people to understand how their behavior and activities contribute to the safety of food and how they can decrease the risk of foodborne illness, while also reducing food waste. Below are several resources for general food safety information and materials for use with WIC participants. Information specific to the WIC population can be found on the Food Safety for Children and Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women page.

It is important to know that foodborne illness can result in more than just a few unpleasant days of fever and tummy troubles. It can also result in long-term effects and can even be deadly.

Education Materials

Be Food Safe Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS
Brochure for the four core food safety practices.

Food Safety Fact Sheets Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS
Contains facts sheets on a variety of topics, including safe food handling meat, poultry, and egg product preparation at-risk populations and foodborne illnesses. Additional materials for download can be found on their consumer education materials page.

Food Safety Materials Source: University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension
Free hand washing posters, activity sheets and other materials geared towards adults and children of all ages. Some materials available in Spanish.

Is It Done Yet? Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS
Brochure that reviews why and how to use a food thermometer as well as the four core food safety practices and signs of foodborne illness.

Safe Produce Source: Partnership for Food Safety Education
Downloadable consumer fact sheet that provides tips safe handling tips for fresh produce and fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices.

Go 40 or Below Source: Partnership for Food Safety Education
Provides brochures in English and Spanish on home food safety tips specifically for expecting mothers.

Information Resources

Wash Your Hands Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC
Reviews when to wash your hands, the proper way to do so (with an accompanying video), and what to do if there is no soap and clean, running water. This site is also available in Spanish.

Fight BAC® Source: Partnership for Food Safety Education
Reviews the four core food safety practices (clean, separate, cook, and chill) with accompanying downloadable fact sheets and charts for cold storage and minimal internal temperature (for cooked foods).

USDA Food Safety Guidelines for the Impending Storm - Recipes

About Us
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. Read More

We offer you free lesson plans for teaching youth how to preserve at home in Put it Up! The curriculum is available to download and print from the Put It Up! curriculum page. There you can access additional teaching tools: legal-size &ldquoposters&rdquo with step-by-step checklists.

Preserve It & Serve It: A Children's Guide to Canning, Freezing, Drying, Pickling and Preparing Snacks with preserved Foods.

This 47-page book teaches the basics of preserving with boiling water canning, freezing, refrigerating, quick pickling and drying. Step-by-step methods are illustrated and several child-friendly recipes are provided for using each of the preserved foods. Activities are intended to be carried out with adult supervision and help. Preserved foods include canned applesauce, canned strawberry jam, refrigerator or canned pickles, frozen berries, and dried fruit, tomato slices and applesauce rolled leather. Available for sale at the UGA Extension Publication Store.

Recorded Webinar Available

Having trouble watching this video? Use VLC Media Player to view it.

So Easy To Preserve

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has now published a 6th edition of its popular book, So Easy To Preserve. The book is new as of September 2014. Chapters include Preserving Food, Canning, Pickled Products, Sweet Spreads and Syrups, Freezing and Drying. Ordering information is available on the So Easy to Preserve website.

Our self-paced, online course for those wanting to learn more about home canning and preservation is temporarily unavailable while it is converted to another platform. This may take several months we are sorry for the inconvenience. The same information can be learned by reading through Guides 1 through 4 of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, or this section of our website: How Do I. Can

Food Safety Considerations

One of the most common errors in home canning is not using a scientifically tested recipe. Canning a family recipe is risky as it can cause spoilage and foodborne illness. Botulism can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted, so the best way to ensure your home-canned products are safe is to use recipes from an evidence-based resource. Two factors that play a major role in the safety of a recipe are pH and consistency of the product.

  • pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. pH is an important factor because of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, a microorganism that produces a deadly toxin known as botulism. It is dependent on the pH of the product whether water bath canning or pressure canning is the correct way to preserve your food.
  • Consistency is important as it influences the time it takes to heat the product to the proper temperature to kill harmful microorganisms. If consistency is too thick, it can be difficult for the product to reach the necessary temperature throughout the jar.

Home canners most likely don’t have access to the high-tech equipment to perform these measures, and thus don’t know whether their family recipe, or a recipe found elsewhere, is being processed safely. If you have a favorite family recipe for canning, consider freezing for later or enjoying right away. You can also consider having it reviewed by a 3rd Party Processing Authority within SDSU Extension. This individual can have your product evaluated for pH and also review your recipe and processing to ensure that the product is being safely made. The cost is $45 and would not only allow you to ensure that you are making the product safely but would also allow you to sell your product at a Farmers Market. If you have any questions on this process, please reach out to Curtis Braun.

It is difficult to determine the safety of a recipe found from an unreliable resource as the pH level and consistency of the final product may never have been tested. Unreliable resources can include magazines, blogs, and family recipes. When looking at recipes online, always refer to the resource the recipe came from. If it is not a resource such as those listed below, consider going directly to these evidence-based resources and finding a similar recipe that sparks your interest.

To learn more about canning equipment, watch our Canning Equipment video!

Importance of Food Safety

Each year, millions of Americans suffer — and thousands die — from foodborne illnesses. This is a preventable problem that is damaging to both individuals and the economy, but many of these illnesses can be prevented. Ongoing food safety improvements, in addition to reducing foodborne illnesses, can yield economic and social benefits:

  • Reduced loss of income and health care costs for the affected individual
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced burden on the country’s healthcare system through improved public health
  • A safer food supply, from farm to table
  • Consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply leading to economic stability throughout the food sector

Summertime Food Safety

The number of people engaging in outdoor activities, including food-related activities, goes up in the summer. So too does the number of people who get sick from food poisoning. Pregnant women and young children are among those at highest risk for foodborne illnesses, making safe food handling particularly important for them.

Check out the resources below that WIC staff can use to educate participants on food safety to help reduce their risk of foodborne illness.

Outdoor Activity-Specific Resources

  • Consumer Fact Sheets from the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Summer Toolkit to Prevent Foodborne Illness
  • Seven Super Steps to Safe Food in the Summer from the Partnership for Food Safety Education
  • Family-friendly Summer and Vacation food safety tips and an infographic on the Food Safety by Events and Seasons webpage from (or
  • Tips from FDA (including English and Spanish) on eating outdoors
  • Get ready to grill safely from CDC, which also has a Spanish version

In addition to summertime food safety, it’s also important to continue practicing other healthy habits, including social distancing, to make sure everyone stays safe when visiting parks and recreational facilities.

General Food Safety Resources

  • Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness (English and Spanish)
  • Protecting yourself, other shoppers and grocery store workers during COVID-19
  • Food Safety for Children and Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
  • WIC Human Milk Storage Guidelines
  • Food Safety in Your Kitchen (English and Spanish)
  • Food Recalls and Outbreaks
  • Long-Term Effects of Foodborne Illness

Also available are CDC social media graphics in English and Spanish and webinars hosted by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, such as Keeping Babies & Toddlers Safe from Foodborne Illness and Health at Risk: Long-Term Health Effects of Foodborne Illness (1.0 CDR CEU offered for each!).

Fermenting Veggies at Home: Follow Food Safety ABCs

Fermentation has become what USDA microbiologist Fred Breidt, Jr., describes as a “movement that’s picking up speed.” And for good reason, said Breidt, who specializes in the safety of fermented and acidic foods. Referring to home preparers, small producers and restaurant owners, he said that “they like being able to pick up these nice flavors (from fermentation) and making new ones.” Sandor Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation” and “The Art of Fermentation,” refers to this “food movement” as a “fermentation revival.” Considered to be “live foods, fermented foods have a natural tart flavor because the sugars and carbohydrates have been broken down and used up during fermentation.” Katz said that, in the case of vegetables, they’re more digestible than raw ones. And, because they contain “living bacteria,” they help digest other foods in the digestive tract. Fermentation has long been part of human history. In fact, food scientists say that it played a vital role in human survival in the days before stoves and refrigerators simply because it allowed people to preserve food in a nutritional and safe way. Think foods such as cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, olives, salami, jerky and even bread. And think beverages such as wine and beer, not to mention coffee and hot chocolate. All of these — and many more — are examples of fermented foods. Although we eat one form of fermented food every day, the idea of fermenting our own food conjures up images of strange, iffy, and perhaps dangerous dishes. Surely it would be best to leave it to the experts. Not so, say food scientists, microbiologists and fermentation advocates — especially in the case of fermented raw vegetables. They point out that just about any raw vegetable can be safely fermented at home, if done properly. Breidt has often been quoted as saying that the scientific literature has never recorded a case of food poisoning involving raw vegetables that have been fermented properly. But he emphasized that the key word here is “properly,” which some people who quote him fail to include in that sentence. How does it work? Simply put, fermentation of vegetables happens when the natural bacteria in the vegetables break down the components of the vegetables into forms easier to digest and often more nutritious than the raw vegetable itself. For those who have apprehensions about food safety, Breidt said that fermented vegetables can be safer than raw vegetables, thanks to the ability of lactic acid, which forms during fermentation, to hunt down and kill any harmful bacteria that might be present. “It’s almost bulletproof,” he said, referring to fermentation of vegetables, which almost always includes adding salt to shredded, chopped or grated raw vegetables. Breidt refers to lactic acid bacteria as the “world champions for consuming sugars and converting them to lactic acid.” From there, the lactic acid gets to work overpowering any pathogens on hand. Fermentation was probably one of the first technologies adopted by humans, Breidt said, noting that it likely developed about the same time as pots in which to hold food. “Vegetables and salt got together,” he said, conjecturing about how this happy “food marriage” began. Humans probably adopted fermentation about 12,000 years ago — at the dawn of civilization — and Breidt said the technology rapidly spread from region to region. “We still do it the same way today,” he said. “Why? Because it works. It’s hard to mess it up. Things can go wrong, but it’s rare.” Author Sandor Katz echoed this, telling Food Safety News that home fermentation of raw vegetables is intrinsically safe. He listed cabbage, daikon radishes, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, okra, string beans and green tomatoes as good candidates for fermentation. “There’s no vegetable you can’t ferment,” he said, but added that leafy greens such as kale — because of their chlorophyll content — aren’t to most people’s liking. During an NPR interview, Katz explained that pickling and fermentation are not the same, although they are “overlapping” categories. A cucumber, for example, can be pickled with vinegar or fermented without vinegar, using a salty brine instead. During fermentation, however, vinegar and other acids are produced, which is why fermented sauerkraut and pickles taste “vinegary.” When looking at fermented foods collectively, Katz said they’re a big part of the food industry, which means that a lot of research has been done, and is being done, on fermentation. Even now, he said, the traditional methods of fermentation continue to work well. He pointed out that, until a few generations ago, fermentation was a common way to process foods. “Historically, it was a way for people to preserve the harvest for the winter,” he said. But now that it isn’t commonly done at home or in the community, people tend not to ferment foods at home because of their fear of bacteria, viewing fermentation as some sort of “mystique.” Breidt said that, in Germany, sauerkraut was an important way to stay healthy during the winter, thanks to its nutritional value, which includes healthy amounts of Vitamin C. He also said that sailors, including those on Captain Cook’s crew, ate sauerkraut as a way to get enough Vitamin C. “A large chunk of human history relied on fermentation as a way to preserve vegetables and help keep people healthy,” he said. Today, fermentation continues to be widespread and practiced in all parts of the world, with regions and nations having their own special favorite fermented foods — kimchee in Korea, for example, and sauerkraut in Germany. What about food safety? While fermented vegetables can be safer than raw vegetables, primarily because the fermentation process kills harmful bacteria, basic food-safety practices need to be followed. Both Breidt and Katz said that it’s important to start out with vegetables that have been grown using good food-safety practices. This includes making sure the vegetables didn’t come into contact with manure or compost that still has some pathogens such as E. coli or Salmonella in it. “You don’t want to use vegetables that have been contaminated when they’re raw,” Katz said. “Just normal fermentation will kill the organisms,” said Breidt. “But you don’t want to ignore good handling and good sanitary practices.” These include washing the produce, your hands, any cutting or preparation utensils, surfaces where the food will be cut or chopped, and any containers you use for the food. As for quality, both agree that the fresher the veggies, the better. University of Idaho food scientist Gulhan Unlu, who focuses on food microbiology and bacteriology, told Food Safety News that the biggest concern with fermented vegetables is contamination after the foods have been fermented. This includes handling them with unclean hands, or letting them come into contact with contaminated meat or fish or with surfaces that haven’t been adequately cleaned. But overall, she agreed that, from a food-safety standpoint, fermented vegetables can be safer than raw vegetables. A World Health Organization report, which focused on the value of fermentation for people in developing nations who don’t have refrigeration — or enough fuel to thoroughly cook their food, or to store it at high enough temperatures, or to reheat it — shared some similar thoughts about food safety. “From the food safety point of view, the benefits of fermentation include the inhibition of the growth of most pathogenic bacteria and the formation of bacterial toxins,” states the report. The report also made it clear that basic food-safety guidelines must be followed and states that “there is considerable evidence that lactic acid fermentation inhibits the survival and multiplication of a number of bacterial pathogens.” However, the report adds, the potential of lactic acid fermentation to control the harmful effects of food contamination depends on factors difficult to quantify, such as the initial level of contamination, which, in turn, depends on local conditions, levels of hygiene and sanitation, and the resulting degree of acidity. “On its own, fermentation cannot eliminate all food-related health risks, and it should not be seen as a replacement for observing the principles of food hygiene,” reads the report. Proper temperature is important. According to USDA, at temperatures between 70-75 degrees F, kraut will be fully fermented in about three to four weeks at 60-65 degrees F, fermentation may take five to six weeks. At temperatures lower than 60 degrees F, kraut may not ferment, and, above 75 degrees F, kraut may become soft. The take-home message: Proper fermentation temperature allows for problem pathogens to be “selected” and destroyed, while it also inhibits the growth of organisms that can spoil the food. Salt is an essential ingredient, and since consumers don’t usually have a good way to measure salt concentration in the finished product, they need to be sure they measure the salt carefully and follow a tested recipe. Types of salt to use are canning and pickling salt, since table salt, kosher salt, or other types of salt cannot be interchanged with canning and pickling salt. Also, salt with iodine added shouldn’t be used since iodine can inhibit fermentation. The correct level of salt to use varies with the food being fermented. It ranges from 2.25 percent (by volume) for sauerkraut to more than 13 percent for other food items. Again, tested recipes should be followed when it comes to the proper amount of salt to use. Salt affects the type and extent of microbial activity and helps keep vegetables from becoming soft. Storage time also affects the texture. The shorter the time, the firmer the vegetables. Storing food that has already been fermented in the refrigerator or a root cellar significantly slows down the rate of fermentation. That’s why fermented foods can be stored for up to three months, or longer, without losing their quality and good taste. Fermented food needs to reach a pH level of 4.6 or lower (which indicates it is acidic enough to be safe). Fermentation, if done properly, will bring food to the “safe” acid level. In a case of botulism poisoning in fermented tofu in 2012 in New York City, the city’s health department informed the manager of the grocery store where the tofu was purchased that the tofu needed to be stored below 41 degrees F. in closed containers. The people who fell ill bought from the store’s bulk tofu, which had been kept unrefrigerated, uncovered, and in water-filled bins. Botulism is an extremely dangerous and often deadly foodborne pathogen. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, only one similar botulism poisoning in the U.S. has been recorded. Yet home-fermented tofu and other fermented bean products are the leading cause of botulism poisoning in China. Again, the proper food-safety precautions, chief among them sanitation, but also temperature controls, need to be taken. Sauerkraut it is Breidt encourages people to find tested recipes at university Extension sites or in cookbooks written by reputable food experts. Making sauerkraut is a good way to get started on the road to fermentation. It’s simple to do but also involves a basic procedure that can be used with other vegetables, although the amount of salt and fermenting time can vary. Breidt advises beginners to grate, chop or shred the vegetables they plan to ferment because vegetables such as carrots and beets are dense enough that it’s difficult for the lactic acid to get inside of them if they’re in big chunks. The more surface area, the better — and the safer. However, he said that’s not the case with cucumbers, primarily because they’re about 90 percent water, which makes it easier for the lactic acid to penetrate them. Getting started To get started making sauerkraut, select a nice-looking, firm head of cabbage that’s as fresh as possible. Remove the outer leaves and cut out any spoiled or damaged spots. Rinse the cabbage head. Quarter the cabbage and remove the core. After shredding, grating or chopping the cabbage, put it into a clean container large enough for a generous amount of headroom at the top. Add the amount of salt suggested in the recipe and spread it out evenly throughout the cabbage. (Some people layer the cabbage and the salt.) Mix it together well, and then let it set for 10 minutes so that the salt can start drawing the juice out of the cabbage. Katz recommends three tablespoons of salt for five pounds of cabbage. But he also says that he uses more salt in the summer and less in the winter. (A medium-sized head of cabbage weighs about 2 to 2-1/2 pounds.) Start squeezing handfuls of the cabbage as hard as you can. The goal is to get as much juice out of the cabbage as possible. Some people pound the cabbage mixture with a potato masher or a tool known as a “kraut pounder.” Overall, this part of the process takes about 10 minutes. Some people like to add “a starter” such as lactobacillus or whey to speed things up. But Katz said that it’s not necessary to do that since fermentation is a natural process that doesn’t need any sort of a boost. A USDA recipe for sauerkraut calls for only salt and cabbage. However, if you do use a packaged starter, make sure you follow the instructions. Once the brine has been “released,” tightly pack the cabbage into a clean fermenting jar, crock, or food-grade plastic container (don’t use anything metal), making sure there are no cracks or scratches in the containers that could harbor pathogens. Other good choices for containers include a glass jar with a standard airlock system (available online or in some kitchen-goods stores), a round slow-cooker insert (make sure it doesn’t have any cracks), or a specialty ceramic fermenting crock (complete with lids, weights, a water-trough-airlock system and weights). Cultures for Health has more information about equipment and tools for fermenting sauerkraut and other vegetables. With the goal of keeping the cabbage submerged in its brine, put some sort of sterile lid on top of it once it’s in the new container. A large plate can work well, with a zip-lock plastic bag filled with water placed on top of the plate to weight it down. A sterilized heavy rock on top of the plate will also do the trick. In the case of a smaller batch, an open-mouth canning jar with a smaller jar filled with water placed on top of the chopped cabbage to keep it submerged works well. Whether making a large or small batch, place a clean towel over the container and secure it with a rubber band. This will keep insects out while allowing some of the gases produced during fermentation to escape. The goal at this point is to keep the minimum amount of oxygen from reaching the vegetables so that mold doesn’t develop. But, if a light amount of mold does develop at the surface, just skim it off and remove any of the sauerkraut that has become discolored. It’s essential not to let mold develop to the point that it can get down into the sauerkraut or other vegetables being fermented. If that happens, Breidt advises, for the sake of food safety, toss the batch. Once all of that is done, put the sauerkraut in a place where you can keep an eye on it. After about three to 21 days, the brine will clear and the cabbage will start to taste tangy. Start sampling to see when the sauerkraut tastes the way you want. Some people like a lightly fermented sauerkraut others like it tangier. Once it reaches the stage you like it, put it into a container, such as a tightly covered jar, and put it into the refrigerator, making sure there’s 1/2 inch of headroom. It’s important that the brine covers the sauerkraut. If the kraut doesn’t stay submerged, add some clean water. It’s also important to release the pressure from the gases that will build up. This can be done by opening the lid now and then to let the gases escape. Other vegetables such as grated carrots, beets or turnips can be added to the sauerkraut mix at the beginning of the process. Adding red cabbage, which provides some color, is another option. Caraway seeds, garlic or even juniper berries are another nice touch. “Why not?” Breidt commented, referring to using a mix of ingredients. “That’s what adds flavor and variety to fermented vegetables.” As the sauerkraut cools down when you put it in the refrigerator or into a root cellar, the fermentation process slows rapidly, which means you’ll be able to enjoy the finished product for several weeks or longer. Many people find that putting their fermented vegetables in a root cellar or refrigerator for four to six weeks improves the flavor. In storage, the bacteria continue to ferment, but at a very slow rate. Fermented vegetables with 1 percent to 2 percent salt by volume of the fermented product should keep well for at least four to nine months, respectively, in a refrigerator. A 2-percent salted version should keep well in a dark, cool area such as a root cellar for at least three months, if the vegetables are kept submerged under liquid. Some people recommend covering the containers with a dark cloth to maintain Vitamin C levels. Katz has a video of how to make sauerkraut on YouTube. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has more information about fermentation and recipes including sauerkraut and pickles.

Food Safety After a Storm

These must-read food safety tips will help keep your family safe if the power goes out.

If your power goes out from a storm, the entire contents of your refrigerator are in jeopardy. But how can you tell what&aposs safe to eat and what has to be tossed? Read on for what you should do before, during, and after a power outage.

How to prep before a storm:
If there is a serious threat of a power outage, take a few steps to keep food cold in case you lose electricity.

  • Have coolers and DIY ice packs on hand in case of a power outage. Make ice cubes and freeze them in ziplock freezer bags. Freeze plastic jugs or ziplock freezer bags full of water.
  • If there are items in the refrigerator that you won&apost be eating immediately, transfer them to the freezer. Pack food tightly together a full freezer will stay colder longer.
  • Keep appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature. The refrigerator should be 40 degrees or lower and your freezer should be 0 degrees, according to the USDA.
  • Stock up on canned goods that have a long shelf life and do not need refrigeration. For guidelines on how long canned food lasts, check out the USDA&aposs Shelf-Stable Food Safety guide.

What to do when the power goes out:
If you lose power, time is of the essence. Keep track of how long the power has been out and follow these guidelines:

7 Simple Food Safety Steps You Need to Follow on Super Bowl Sunday

Talk about a party foul—here’s how to make sure no one gets food poisoning while watching the big game, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

It&aposs prime time for football fans. Super Bowl LV will be held on Sunday, February 7, 2021 at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. And though this year&aposs big game will look different than it has in the past, many viewers—hopefully your family included—will still be serving up homemade Super Bowl foods or ordering take-out for the big game. (Find our guide to hosting a socially distant outdoor viewing party here).

And whether you&aposre a seasoned hostess or will be having your own viewing party for the first time—only members of your household, please!—the USDA&aposs Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to make sure your game day feast follows all the proper food safety protocol. After all, many of us are guilty of letting foods sit out for hours on end during the Super Bowl, including highly perishable dishes like chicken wings and dips. How can you keep food safe during the game, and how long can you leave food out before it goes bad? Here,Veronika Pfaeffle, a public affairs specialist in the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education for the USDA&aposs FSIS, provides her top tips for avoiding a bout of family food poisoning on game day.

It's important to wash your hands before, during, and after preparing any meals, especially if you’re preparing raw foods (including raw frozen foods). “Proper hand washing after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood. and eggs can greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination,” Pfaeffle explains. Hand washing should always include five simple steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

Always use a food thermometer to cook meat, poultry, fish, and egg dishes to a safe minimum internal temperature. “Color is never a reliable indicator of safety and doneness,” says Pfaeffle. Food thermometers are widely available and super easy to use—you can even find Bluetooth-connected, wireless options, like the Yummly Smart Thermometer ($129, that alerts you on your mobile device when your food is cooked. When taking temperatures manually, remember this list of minimum internal temperatures:

  • Cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
  • Cook raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to 160 °F.
  • Cook egg dishes to 160 °F.
  • Cook fish to 145 °F.
  • Cook raw poultry to 165 °F.
  • To correctly take the temperature of burgers, insert the food thermometer through the side of the patty, until the probe reaches the center to detect cold spots. The thermometer should read 160 °F.
  • For chicken wings, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the wing, avoiding the bone. The thermometer should read 165 °F.

If you order food and it’s delivered or picked up in advance of the big game, divide the food into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate until ready to reheat and serve. You can also keep the food warm in a preheated oven, warming tray, chafing dish, or slow cooker.

When reheating food containing meat or poultry, make sure the internal temperature is 165 °F as measured by a food thermometer. If heating food in the microwave, ensure that contents are evenly dispersed. Because microwaved food can have cold spots, be sure to stir food evenly until the food has reached a safe internal temperature throughout. “Always, it is not recommended to use a slow cooker or chafing dish to reheat food,” adds Pfaeffle. “These are only safe to use to keep hot foods hot once the product has already reached a safe minimum internal temperature.”

Follow the two-hour rule: bacteria grow rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F. “That temperature range is what is known as the Danger Zone,” explains Pfaeffle. “Perishable foods such as chicken wings, pizza, and chili left at room temperature longer than two hours should be discarded.”

“On that note, when serving food, it is important to remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold,” Pfaeffle says. “Nearly 85 percent of respondents to a USDA national web survey indicated that they do not place cold foods on ice when hosting large gatherings and store or discard the leftovers after two hours.” Keep cold foods at an internal temperature of 40°F or below by keeping food on ice or refrigerated until ready to serve.

Pfaeffle adds that in the same national web survey, 66 percent of respondents indicated they did not keep their hot foods warm after cooking. Hot foods should be kept warm (above 140 °F) until they are eaten. Keep hot foods at an internal temperature of 140 °F or above by placing food in a preheated oven, warming trays, chafing dishes, or slow cookers.

Here's what to look out for

1. Meats, fish and poultry: When it comes to most animal proteins, pay attention to surface color changes, a dull hue or a funky smell. There may also be a texture change, especially a slimy coating on deli meats, chicken and fish.

2. Cooked and raw veggies: Make sure to feel their texture. The tips of vegetables like green beans or asparagus will sometimes take on a wilted look and feel mushy to the touch. Their odor, while less noticeable than bad meat, will also change slightly.

3. Grains and pasta: The starch category may have a little more "leniency" than something like cooked fish when it comes fridge shelf life, said Carothers. Because a lot of grains are cooked in water, there's a moisture component to watch out for that will result in the noodles or starch becoming soggy during the first stages of spoiling. Cooked pasta, however can last up to five days, while rice and quinoa may be good for up to six days.

4. Vegan proteins: Like animal protein, vegan proteins can also stink up the kitchen with unsavory odors. If a rotten, sulfur smell pours out of the Tupperware container of tofu tacos and beans, toss it.

The best meal-prepping advice?

While it might be tempting to try to cook for seven days at a time, you'll have a lower risk of your food spoiling if you plan two prep days a week. Because nobody wants to waste a pretty lunch — or eat a stinky one.


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