While most would agree that 2020 has been stressful, Karen Blakeslee says holiday meals should not add to the anxiety.
Blakeslee, a food safety specialist at Kansas State University, notes the lead-up to the holiday season is a good time to take a deep breath and relax – then, make a plan to keep it that way.
“Make a list to plan your meal,” Blakeslee said. “Shop for food now to have it available and to avoid the shopping rush. You can also prepare and freeze foods ahead to spread out food preparation time.”
When done correctly, many foods – such as meat – can be frozen to extend their shelf life. Some foods can be cooked directly from the freezer.
“For best results, use freezer safe packaging designated for freezing,” Blakeslee said. “Remove as much air from the package as possible to protect food quality.”
She added that the freezer should be kept at 0 degrees F or lower. Guidelines for many common foods are available online from K-State Research and Extension.
When ready to use frozen foods, Blakeslee said there are three options for thawing:
• Refrigerator. This takes the longest time and advance planning. Large items, like a frozen turkey, may require 24 hours for every five pounds of weight.
• Microwave. Do this when you intend to use or cook the food immediately after thawing.
• Cold running water. Cold tap water is useful when the food can thaw in less than two hours. Cook food immediately after thawing.
If not planning to cook and freeze foods ahead of time, make a schedule for when you will prepare menu items. If you only have one oven, use other ways to cook foods such as an electric roaster, an electric multi-cooker, or a slow cooker.
“Think about sharing food preparation by having family members help,” Blakeslee said. “This will ease the stress and give more family time at home.”
Blakeslee, who also is coordinator of K-State’s Rapid Response Center for food science, publishes a monthly newsletter that addresses many food safety topics. She also maintains a website that provides guidelines for safe holiday meals.
This year, she’s also advising folks to follow local guidelines on gatherings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “You don’t want to give the gift of any illness,” she said.
K-State food safety specialist Karen Blakeslee urges consumers to remember the four key concepts for safe and healthy food during the holidays:
• Clean. Wash your hands and clean as you go to keep countertops and equipment clean through meal preparation.
• Separate raw foods (such as meat) from ready-to-eat foods. Clean or use separate utensils when going from raw foods to ready-to-eat foods.
• Cook foods to proper temperatures for doneness. Three temperatures to remember include 145 degrees F for steaks roasts and chops; 160 F for ground meat; and 165 F for poultry.
• Chill foods promptly to reduce the growth of bacteria. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.