Food Safety for the Holidays

By Charlyn Fargo

November 23, 2018 6 min read

You may have heard about the recent recall of romaine lettuce due to the presence of E. coli bacteria. As a result, you won't find romaine available for purchase. Earlier this week, the FDA and CDC issued a statement to consumers not to eat any foods containing romaine lettuce or purchase any items with romaine lettuce. There is an ongoing investigation of possible contamination.

Food safety is always an issue that should be at the forefront of our minds during the holidays. Here are a few tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to keep your favorite foods safe.

1. Turkey thaw: To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, frozen meats and poultry should be thawed in a refrigerator set at or below 40 F. If pressed for time, you can thaw a wrapped frozen turkey in a sink filled with cold tap water, making sure to change the water every 30 minutes. Depending on the size of the turkey, it may be defrosted in the microwave, but check the owner's manual and be prepared to cook it right after thawing. A frozen turkey also can be cooked in the oven to its safe, minimum internal temperature of 165 F, but it will take longer to cook than if it is thawed first.

2. Cooling foods: When preparing a cooked dish that needs to chill (for storage or serving purposes), many people think it's necessary to wait until foods cool before putting them in the refrigerator. It's not. To ensure the freshness and safety of your freshly cooked foods, place them promptly in the refrigerator after cooking. Using shallow containers will allow them to cool more quickly.

3. Traveling foods: Holiday festivities with family and friends often require travel, which can result in long car rides for both guests and dishes brought along to share. Pay close attention to how much time your prepared dish will be out of the refrigerator or oven. A cold dish can be packed in a cooler with ice packs to keep it cold while traveling. Hot dishes can be transported in an insulated bag that is intended to keep foods hot or covered with foil and insulated with towels. Cold dishes should be kept under 40 F and hot dishes above 140 F. If it is outside these temperature zones for two hours or more, it should be discarded.

4. Reheating leftovers: While most home cooks remember to bring gravy to a boil before serving it, many forget the same rule also applies during the encore presentation. In order to eliminate harmful bacteria, always bring leftover gravy to a boil on the stove before serving it a second time. Any leftover gravy should be used within three to four days.

5. Safe food: The "five-second-rule" isn't just popular with children; many adults also say they abide by a specific "rule" to determine how long food is safe to eat after it falls on the floor. Tragic as it may be when a holiday treat topples to the ground, it's never a good idea to eat it. In the spirit of "out with the old, in with the new," toss it.

Q and A

Q: Before cooking steel-cut oats, I grind them for 30 seconds until they get to a flour-like consistency. Am I losing nutrition by doing this? Would I be better off nutritionally by cooking rolled oats instead?

A: When you grind the oats, you retain the fiber and phytonutrients in the oats, but the porridge will not be as beneficial for your blood sugar because the glycemic index (the measure of how quickly a carbohydrate affects blood sugar) is higher. The smaller the particle size of a grain, the higher the glycemic index. Steel-cut oats have a relatively low glycemic index of 42. When you grind the oats, the glycemic index increases. By comparison, the glycemic index of rolled oats is 55. Instant oatmeal has a glycemic index of 83. Patsy Jamieson, the recipe editor with Tufts University, suggests that to get around the long cooking time of steel-cut oats, you can soak the oats in cold water overnight. That reduces the actual cooking time to 10 to 15 minutes.

Information courtesy of Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.


When the temperatures dip, turn to soup. Here's a very flavorful jambalaya soup from Cooking Light's Holiday issue.


6 ounces smoked andouille sausage, chopped

4 cups unsalted chicken stock

2 (10-ounce) cans diced tomatoes and green chiles

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped celery

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon salt-free Creole seasoning (such as Tony Chachere's)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 cup uncooked brown rice

12 ounces raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add stock, tomatoes, chiles, onion, bell pepper, celery, tomato paste, Creole seasoning, garlic and salt. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. Stir in rice. Cover and cook on low until rice is tender, about 2 hours. Stir in shrimp. Cover and cook on low for 8 minutes. Divide soup evenly among 6 bowls. Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 6 (serving size 1 2/3 cups).

Per serving: 247 calories, 19 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams sugars, 6 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 623 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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