The NFL playoffs are often a time for gatherings of family and friends for fun and food.

Just as a team cannot be successful unless all the players are on the same page, game-day feasting must follow a food safety playbook to avoid painful penalties. Hosts and guests must buy in to the basic rules of food safety to avoid a yellow flag on seven-layer dip.

With only eight teams left in the post-season battle for the Super Bowl, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding people about how to keep foodborne illness on the bench and out of the game when preparing for and participating in playoff parties.

Tackle food poisoning fears in the kitchen by following these four simple rules:

Clean — According to the Food and Drug Administration, 25 percent of people don’t wash their hands before preparing food. By washing hands frequently with warm soapy water for 20 seconds, especially after handling raw foods including meat, poultry and fresh produce, the spread of germs and foodborne illness can be reduced and prevented. While enjoying foods, encourage party guests to wash their hands before and after eating. The USDA even suggests providing disposable towelettes nearby for a quick touch up during timeouts.

Cloth kitchen towels are a major source of cross-contamination and frequently spread bacteria and viruses. Used towels should be removed from the kitchen as soon as they are soiled. Paper towels should never be reused, but can be safer than cloth towels is properly used.

Separate — It’s the offense and defense when it comes to food safety habits. Avoiding cross-contamination starts at the grocery store. Separate raw meat and poultry from produce and other food items in your shopping cart. Place raw foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices, which may contain harmful bacteria, from contaminating other foods. When preparing your Super Bowl treats, cut fruits and veggies on a designated cutting board and keep it separate from where you prepare other raw meat and poultry products.

Cook — Whatever you choose to serve, use your food thermometer. It is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg dishes. If your Super Bowl menu includes chicken wings, they should reach a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. No matter what your Uncle Buck believes, USDA research proves that color and texture are unreliable indicators of safety and doneness for meat, poultry and seafood.

Chill — To keep food out of the “Danger Zone”  of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F, keep hot foods like pizza and wings hot, and cold foods like guacamole and cream cheese dip cold. When setting food out, be sure to serve cold foods in small portions, keeping refills cool in the fridge until they are needed. Remember that you can use an ice bath to keep cold foods cold, and keep hot foods in a pre-heated oven. Since most games last longer than two hours — the cutoff for leaving food at room temperature — remember to refrigerate leftovers during the fourth-quarter commercials if they’ve been on the table since the pre-game show.


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