It’s that time of year when the parties never seem to end. They’re great occasions for exchanging good will and gifts – but not the dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
Here are some of the unwanted guests who may try to crash your party:
- Staphylococcus aureus: This bacteria is commonly found on our skin and in our noses and throats. If it gets into food, it multiplies rapidly at room temperature to produce a toxin that causes illness within 1-6 hours. Thorough cooking kills the bacteria but doesn’t get rid of the toxin. Staph can be lurking in party foods that are made by hand and require no additional cooking, such as meat or potato salads, cream pies, and sandwich fillings.
- Clostridium perfringens: It’s nicknamed the “cafeteria germ” because it tends to hang out in foods served in quantity and left out at room temperature. Meats, meat products, and gravy are the foods most often associated with illness caused by this bacteria.
- Listeria monocytogenes: Listeria is unlike many other germs because it can grow even in the cold temperature of the refrigerator. That’s why it may be found in those cold foods often served at buffets, such as deli meats and smoked salmon. Listeria is especially harmful to pregnant women: they are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get the infection, and the consequences can be deadly for the unborn baby.
Here’s what you can do to prevent these and other foodborne bacteria from taking the cheer out of your holidays:
|Be NICE||Don’t be NAUGHTY|
|Wash your hands before and after handling food.||Don’t let bacteria from your hands contaminate your party food.|
|Serve food on clean plates.||Never let juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood come into contact with cooked food.|
|Replace serving plates often.||Avoid putting fresh food on serving plates that have been sitting out at room temperature.|
|Use a food thermometer and the Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart to make sure that food is cooked safely.||Don’t guess – you can’t tell for sure whether food is safe by looking at it. Use a food thermometer to be sure.|
|Keep hot foods hot (140 °F or above) by using slow cookers, chafing dishes, or warming trays OR use small serving containers and replace them often.||Never let hot foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours.|
|Keep cold foods by nesting cold (40 °F or below) in dishes in bowls of ice OR use small serving trays and replace them often.||Never let cold foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours.|
|Store foods in shallow containers to refrigerate or freeze them.||Avoid storing foods in large containers that don’t promote rapid, even cooling of food.|
In November, the FDA issued warning letters to four companies that make alcoholic beverages with added caffeine, sometimes referred to as “caffeinated alcoholic beverages.” The letters warned the companies that FDA considers the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages to be an “unsafe food additive.” A food or beverage that contains an unsafe food additive is considered adulterated and, thus, illegal.
Since the letters were issued, we have received a number of questions about caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Here are answers to three questions we hear frequently:
Q. I thought that caffeine was safe. Why is the FDA saying that it’s an “unsafe food additive?”
A. The lawfulness of a food ingredient is determined in part by how it’s used. If an ingredient hasn’t been approved by FDA for a certain use, the ingredient can be used only if it’s “generally recognized as safe” for that purpose. For example, caffeine is “generally recognized as safe” when it’s used in cola beverages below a certain level. But FDA has not approved caffeine for use in alcoholic beverages, and FDA doesn’t consider the use of caffeine in the products at issue to be “generally recognized as safe.”
Q. Why would caffeine be considered OK in soft drinks but not in these products?
A. Since November 2009, FDA has been looking at whether caffeine added to an alcoholic beverage is lawful. Based on the available scientific research, FDA is concerned about these beverages for several reasons:
- People drinking these beverages may consume more alcohol—and become more intoxicated—than they realize. That’s because the caffeine masks some of the sensory cues that people use to tell how intoxicated they are (how drunk they feel).
- People drinking these beverages may think that the caffeine counteracts all the effects of alcohol, but that’s not true. Caffeine does not affect the way the body processes alcohol; it doesn’t “sober you up.” You may feel more alert, but the alcohol still affects your physical coordination and reaction time.
- People drinking these beverages may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life threatening situations. Research suggests that people who drink these beverages area at greater risk of alcohol-related consequences, including alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, and riding with a driver who is under the influence of alcohol.
Q. What about alcoholic beverages that include coffee, such as coffee-based liqueurs?
A. The letters FDA sent last month are not directed at coffee-based liqueurs or similar beverages that contain an ingredient with naturally occurring caffeine. Unlike the products identified in the warning letters, these beverages don’t include caffeine added as a separate ingredient.
For more information on the concerns about caffeinated alcoholic beverages, check these resources:
- Consumer Update: Serious Concerns over Alcoholic Beverages with Added Caffeine
- Fact Sheet: Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages (CDC)
- Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages (FDA)
November is the busiest month of the year for those of us on the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline. During the week of Thanksgiving, we get lots of questions about how to safely cook a turkey. Here are answers to the questions we hear most often.
How can I tell when the turkey is done?
Whether you roast, brine, deep fry or smoke your turkey, always use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the meat. You won’t overcook your turkey, and you can ensure it has been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing must also reach 165 °F.
How long does it take to cook a turkey?
Use the Turkey Roasting Chart to determine how long to cook your turkey. These times are approximate and based on fresh or thawed birds at a refrigerator temperature of 40 °F or below.
Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state?
Yes, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet package during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.
Can I cook two turkeys at the same time?
Cooking two turkeys of about the same weight does not double the roasting time. Cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird. Just make sure there is sufficient oven space for proper heat circulation.
What about storing leftovers?
- Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
- Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days or freeze it. Use frozen turkey and stuffing leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Reheat to 165 °F or until hot and steaming. Gravy should come to a rolling boil.
Can I call the Meat & Poultry Hotline on Thanksgiving Day?
Yes! The Hotline will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Call us toll-free at 1-888-674-6854. (Our usual hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time.) You can also ask a question in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov, available 24 hours a day