September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, an opportunity to highlight the culture, contributions and advances of the Hispanic community. It is also a time to gather around the dinner table or in the backyard to share experiences of persistence and resilience with family and friends. From “arroz con pollo” (chicken with rice) to “tamales” and from “churrasco” (grilled beef) to “ropa vieja” (Cuban shredded beef stew), basic food safety tips must be followed if you want to enjoy the fiesta and keep foodborne bacteria away from the table.
Wash your hands before and after handling food. Cutting surfaces and utensils should be washed with soap and water. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting or cooking.
Separate raw and cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination. Don’t let raw meat come in contact with fruits, vegetables or prepared food. Use a separate cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Always serve food on clean plates and don’t reuse plates or platters that previously held raw meat and poultry. Use clean utensils to serve food and don’t reuse those used for the preparation of raw food.
When cooking, use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature needed to destroy harmful bacteria. Cook raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, roasts and fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F and let them rest for 3 minutes before eating. When cooking raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal make sure they reach a minimum internal temperature of 160°F. Egg dishes should also be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F. All poultry should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
Use a cooler with ice or ice packs when transporting cold foods. Keep cold foods cold on a buffet by nesting the serving dishes into bowls of ice. Refrigerate or freeze remaining leftovers if they’ve been out less than two hours. Discard all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry and casseroles that were left at room temperature longer than two hours (one hour in temperatures above 90°F).
A few more tips:
If transporting hot, cooked food from one location to another, keep it hot by carrying it in an insulated container.
When serving hot food on a buffet, make sure the temperature stays at 140°F or above.
Use warming trays and slow cookers to keep hot foods hot, but don’t re-heat cold food in them. Make sure to reheat foods that are usually served hot to at least 165°F before putting them in a slow cooker or warming tray to maintain that reheated temperature.
Before heading out to dance and celebrate Hispanic Heritage month, remember to properly store all the leftover foods from the day’s fiesta by placing them in shallow containers and storing them in the refrigerator.
Want to know how long your leftovers can be stored? Download the FoodKeeper app. Available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, this app offers storage guidance for hundreds of foods and beverages.