It's the season for eggnog, holiday baking, and leftovers! The last thing anyone wants this time of year is to be sick -- especially if it could have been avoided. Food borne illness is often disguised "a tummy ache" or "a bug." And often it's caused by careless actions on the part of people. Still, it can disrupt holiday plans and enjoyment of spending time with family and friends.
Some of our favorite holiday foods, such as eggnog, may contain raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs. Most commercially sold eggnog is pasteurized, meaning the mixture has been heated to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have been present in the raw ingredients. However, if you're making your own eggnog, be sure to use a recipe that calls for slowly heating the mixture to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This will maintain the taste and texture while also killing bacteria.
And no, a dash of rum won't make it safe! Adding alcohol cannot be relied upon to kill bacteria.
When making eggnog, use your favorite recipe, but follow this procedure.
* Beat eggs, sugar and salt in large heavy saucepan until blended. Stir in half the milk.
* Cook over low heat, stirring constantly but gently, until mixture is just thick enough to coat a metal spoon and the temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit --about 15 minutes. The mixture should drip off the spoon, leaving a thin coating that adheres to the spoon. Repeat test as necessary, using a clean spoon each time until the correct stage is reached. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat immediately.
* Stir in the remaining milk, vanilla, and any other ingredients. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight.
Follow the same procedure for making custards, puddings or ice cream safely.
Recipes that call for raw, whipped egg whites, such as frozen fruit salads or fluffy desserts, are also not safe. Those raw eggs have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella.
And, as tasty as that raw cookie dough or cake batter may be, resist the temptation to taste it, or to lick the beaters if the batter contains raw eggs.
Leftovers from a holiday meal come in handy for future meals, but handling them safely can mean the difference between a quick-and-easy meal -- or foodborne illness.
Tips to remember:
* Store leftovers within two hours of serving time.
* Transfer leftovers to a shallow pan for quicker cooling, and cover loosely. Once cooling is complete, tighten covers to protect food quality and prevent cross contamination.
* Use leftovers within a few days -- 1-2 days for gravy; 3-4 days for turkey and stuffing. Reheat gravies, sauces and soups to a boil. Reheat cooked leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
* For longer storage, freeze.
How long can leftovers be stored in the refrigerator? A handy website is www.stilltasty.com. This site is a one-stop resource that pulls information from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control. It also uses information from universities and non-profit organizations that study food storage. This might be a site you'll want to bookmark on your computer for future reference.