I come from a long line of, “Oh, just leave that leftover chicken – or pheasant, or scrambled eggs, or fried potatoes – on the counter. Someone will eat it later.”

And there they’d sit – on a small saucer on the toaster – and people would nibble at them all afternoon and into the evening.

While my mom used to scrub the Thanksgiving turkey with a brush and Palmolive dish soap – seriously – before she put it in the oven at midnight to cook ever so slowly and provide a beautiful breeding ground for bacteria, I kind of give my turkey a quick rinse under the faucet and plop it into the roaster.

Wash produce? Never have.

Pay attention to expiration dates? I’m the daughter of Depression-era Germans. I don’t like to throw things out. My older son once cleaned out my canned foods cupboard and made an artistic display of everything that had expired before he was born. He was a teenager at the time.

But since starting work for Food  Safety News a few weeks ago, I actually washed the romaine lettuce I bought recently. I put those scrambled eggs into the refrigerator sooner than I used to. I’ll try to pay more heed to “use by” dates. (But really, what if there’s a zombie apocalypse and there’s no food in my cupboards? Kidding … sort of.)

Keep it safe on Super Bowl Sunday. Photo illustration

And I’ll very likely pay more attention to the buffet of cornbread, Rice Krispies treats, cinnamon rolls, spinach dip, salsa, etc., that sits out all day long at the chili contest I enter – and lose – each year on Super Bowl Sunday. At least the chili entries are kept warm in Crock Pots as the day goes on, and on, and on, until winners are announced at halftime.

By all rights, given what I’ve learned in recent weeks, I should have been sick many times – or dead – and so should my family. I guess we’re lucky, but I will pay closer attention.

Speaking of the chili contest, I rarely cook without cutting myself, so I’ll probably start keeping some finger cots on hand.

Meanwhile, here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control for a food-poisoning-free Super Bowl LII. By the way, the CDC says Americans eat more food on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year except Thanksgiving. It doesn’t mention alcohol consumption, or emergency room visits, but here goes.

Keep it clean

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating or handling food. Also, wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching pets and pet food.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water– even if you do not plan to eat the peel – so there’s less of a chance of dirt and germs transferring from the surface to the inside when you cut them.

Cook it well

  • Use a food thermometer to test meat and microwaved dishes on your menu to get rid of harmful germs.
    • Make sure chicken wings and any other poultry reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F and that any ground beef items reach 160 degrees F.
    • Follow frozen food package cooking directions when cooking in a microwave.

Avoid the danger zone

  • If preparing food in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containers and store in a refrigerator or freezer until the party begins. This encourages rapid, even cooling.
  • Keep hot foods at 140 degrees F or warmer. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.
  • Keep cold foods,  like salsa and guacamole, at 40 degrees F or colder. Use small service trays or nest serving dishes in bowls of ice.
  • Make sure to keep takeout or delivery foods hot, and cold foods cold. Divide large pots of food, such as soups or stews, and large cuts of meat, such as roasts or whole poultry, into small quantities for refrigeration to allow them to cool quickly and minimize their time in the temperature “danger zone” between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.

Watch the clock

  • Follow recommended microwave cooking and standing times.
    • “Cold spots” — areas that are not completely cooked — can harbor bacteria, viruses and parasites.
    • Always follow directions for “standing time”— the extra minutes food should rest to finish cooking.
  • Track the time food stays on the buffet.
    • Throw away any perishable foods that have been at room temperature for two hours or more.

Avoid mix-ups

  • Separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods like veggies when preparing, serving and storing food.
    • Make sure to use separate cutting boards, plates and knives for produce and for raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
  • Offer guests serving utensils and small plates to discourage them from eating dips and salsa directly from bowls.

Store and reheat leftovers the right way

  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Leftover foods should be refrigerated at 40 degrees F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation. It’s OK to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate leftovers for three to four days at most. Freeze leftovers if you won’t be eating them sooner.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165 degrees F before serving. This includes leftovers warmed up in the microwave.
Catharine Huddle

About the author: Catharine Huddle is a long-time Lincoln, NE, journalist. She started her career at the Lincoln Journal in 1978, moving from the “death and weather girl” position to a reporter for the city desk to covering the state’s prison system. She was eventually promoted to weekend editor/assistant city editor for the newspaper, which is now known as the Journal Star. Click on her photo for additional details.

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