The holidays have come and gone, and many of us have started the countdown to kickoff Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. Like so many Americans, I get pretty excited about the Super Bowl – especially if my home team, Pittsburgh, is playing.

illus chick unsportsmanlike conductNow, I’m not going to profess tremendous knowledge about football, but I do know food. I love food — and the food at Super Bowl parties is to die for — well, let’s hope not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Super Bowl Sunday is the second-largest food consumption day of the year in the U.S., ranking behind only Thanksgiving. After all, what’s the big game without nachos, chili, dip and chicken wings?

Menus nationwide vary widely: guacamole, crab dip, blue cheese dip, hummus, raw veggies, meat trays, chicken wings, nachos, chili, meatballs, and shrimp. But all of these game favorites have a common denominator. They’re all time temperature control foods (TCS), meaning they must be kept at the proper temperature to remain safe to consume. In other words, you can’t keep these items out on a buffet table all day without using warming units to keep hot foods hot or bowls of ice to keep cold foods, like shrimp cocktail, cold.

Here are a few tips to keep you and your guests safe and healthy on game day.

Keep it clean
Wash your hands with soap and warm water of at least 100 degrees for a minimum of 20 seconds before preparing, eating or handling food — especially after passing the bacteria-ridden remote control, after using the bathroom and touching pets.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.

Rinse all produce under running water. Fruits and vegetables with firm skins should be rubbed by hand or scrubbed with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing.

Source: USDA
Source: USDA

Hot stuff
Use a food thermometer to test your tidbits, like chicken wings and ground beef dishes, and any other meat or microwaved dishes on your menu.

Make sure chicken wings and any other poultry dishes reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F and ground beef dishes reach 160 degrees F.

Separate for safety
Divide cooked food into shallow containers and store in a refrigerator or freezer until the party begins. This encourages rapid, even cooling.

Hold hot foods at 140 degrees F or warmer. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.

Maintain cold foods, like salsa and guacamole, at 40 degrees F or colder. Use small service trays or nest serving dishes in bowls of ice, replacing ice often.

Track the time
Follow recommended microwave cooking and standing times. Realize that cold spots — areas that are not completely cooked—can harbor bacteria.

Always follow directions for the “standing time,” the extra minutes that food should stand in the microwave with the door closed to complete the cooking process. Then check the internal temperature with a food thermometer.

Toss any perishable foods that have been out at room temperature for two hours or more.

Avoid cross-contamination
Recognize that cross-contamination is a common factor in the cause of foodborne illness. If you place raw chicken on a board, and then chop vegetables on that same board, you risk cross-contamination, spreading bacteria from the raw poultry onto the vegetables. Proper cooking of the contaminated food in most cases will reduce or eliminate the chances of a foodborne illness from it, but vegetables served raw after chopping will retain bacteria from the surface of an unwashed cutting board straight to your guests mouthes.

Offer guests serving utensils and small plates to discourage them from eating directly from the bowls with dips and salsa.

If your guests have food allergies or sensitivities
Create a separate workspace or area in your kitchen to prepare allergen-free food. Make certain you clean and sanitize all work surfaces and equipment.

Avoid cross-contact, which occurs when an allergen is inadvertently transferred from a food containing an allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen — such as chopping peanuts on a board and then chopping vegetables on that same board. The vegetables have come into contact with the peanuts, which could trigger an allergic reaction in a guest with peanut allergies if they eat those veggies. Cooking does not reduce or eliminate the risk of cross-contact.

Don’t use the same oil for french fries that you use for breaded products, fish or foods containing nuts.

Beware of hidden ingredients. Did you know that dips and dressings can contain nut oils or other hidden allergens? Barbecue sauce commonly contains nuts, wheat and soy. And, Worcestershire sauce can contain anchovies. Always read the labels, and then read again before serving to an allergic person. When in doubt, do without! Desserts, especially ice cream are high risk for nut allergies. Commercial brands of ice cream are typically made on “shared” equipment.

Serve allergen-free foods on different-shaped or different-colored plates so they can be easily identified by guests.

Many hand lotions contain common allergens such as tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy; therefore they should not be kept in the kitchen or worn while preparing food.

Ensure safer leftovers
Discard any perishable foods on the buffet for two hours or more.

Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate.

Don’t wait too long to consume your leftovers. Refrigerate them for three to four days tops. Freeze the leftovers if you won’t be eating them sooner.

illus beer doesnt kill bacteriaNice try, no sale
Another important item at a Super Bowl party is, of course, the beer.  While many people will enjoy a cold beer or two during the game, realize that alcohol won’t kill any dangerous bacteria that your guests may ingest. People frequently ask me about this. The answer is simply “no.”

Have fun at your Super Bowl party with your family and friends, enjoying the game — and the snacks. I’ll be attending a Super Bowl party for the camaraderie, the food and the commercials — and to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy.

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