Spring holidays often bring people together to make and eat meals. Even the most seasoned cooks can be challenged when preparing food when there are more people than usual at the table.

Passover, Easter and Orthodox Easter all have traditional foods associated with them. People who don’t normally cook these special foods may not be aware of the food safety risks they pose.

The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture all offer advice on their websites to help holiday cooks keep the focus on fun instead of food poisoning.

USDA tips for Passover food safety
As the Jewish community observes Passover, which begins March 31 this year, many people will consume food with family and friends. In honor of the holiday here are seven food safety tips, plus one extra for those individuals that celebrate for eight days.

While Passover is a multiple day holiday, cooking meat and poultry shouldn’t be. Meat and poultry, especially large cuts, should not be cooked ‘low and slow’ at an oven temperature below  325° F. Below that temperature, items can spend too long heating up, bacteria can multiply quickly and toxins can be formed to make your dish unsafe.

  1. Kosher meat and poultry products are those produced under rabbinical supervision.  Verify safety of meat and poultry by looking for the “Passed and Inspected by USDA” seal to ensure your item was produced in an establishment inspected by the USDA, in addition to being produced under rabbinical supervision.
  2. A lamb shank bone is commonly used during the Seder Dinner.  Marrow inside beef, pork, and lamb bones are safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature of 145° F with a 3 minute rest.
  3. Eggs are safe for 3 to 5 weeks in a refrigerator measuring 40 °F or below, as measured by an appliance thermometer.
  4. Hard cooked eggs can be safely stored in a refrigerator for 1 week.
  5. Chametz are the forbidden foods during Passover that may include wheat, oats, rye, and barley products that have leavened. Meat and poultry products consisting of two or more ingredients must have an ingredient statement, so if you want to make sure you’re avoiding Chametz, check the ingredients statement.
  6. Raw meats may have the appearance of being cooked, check labels to verify if meats are raw and cook to the proper internal temperature. Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to 160 °F. All poultry should be cooked to 165 °F.
  7. During celebrations keep hot foods at or above 140° F by placing in preheated oven, chafing dishes, preheated warming trays, or slow cookers.

Avoid the bad eggs – and meats – this Easter
In the United States, Easter hams are almost as common as Thanksgiving turkeys. Eggs also hold a starring role in the celebration of the holiday, which is April 1 this year for many Christians and April 8 for those who follow the Orthodox calendar.

Specific tips from the USDA on several Easter favorites include:

Ham – There are different types of hams:

  • Fresh, Uncooked Hams – must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145° F and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.
  • Spiral-Cut or Fully Cooked, Unsliced Hams these are a ready-to-eat products that can be served cold or can be reheated. If you reheat it, make sure it’s heated to at least 140° F before serving.
  • Country Hamsshould be soaked for 4 to 12 hours in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. After soaking, it should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145° F and allowed to rest for three minutes before serving.

Beef – If you’re serving beef brisket, you should plan ahead. Unlike many beef cuts, it is less tender and requires longer cooking or until “fork-tender.”  If cooking in the oven, set the oven for 350° F or no lower than 325° F. Place brisket fat-side up. Barely cover the meat with water — about 1 inch — and keep the container covered throughout the cooking time. Cook for about one hour per pound of meat; for more cooking information see Corned Beef and Food Safety

Lamb – There are many types of lamb cuts, such as shanks, shoulders, steaks. Regardless of its cut, all lamb should be cooked to a safe internal minimum temperature of 145° F, with a 3-minute rest time, as measured with a meat thermometer. See a cooking chart for various lamb cuts.

Eggs – If you plan to make an egg dish or eat the hard-boiled Easter eggs you decorate, be sure not to leave these out at room temperature for more than two hours.  Always cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160° F, as measured by a food thermometer.

Serve cooked eggs and dishes containing eggs immediately after cooking, or place in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate at once for later use. Use within 3 to 4 days.

Be sure to only use food grade dye if you plan to eat the Easter eggs you decorate. USDA recommends making two sets of eggs – one for decorating and hiding, another for eating. Consider using plastic eggs for hiding. If plan to eat, after hard cooking eggs, dye them and return them to the refrigerator within two hours.

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