Holiday meals just wouldn't be the same without those favorite dishes made by aunts, grandmas and other family and friends. It's a time-honored tradition for people to bring food to gatherings. How do you decide who brings what or how to travel with food if you're asked to bring something?
When assigning foods or deciding what to take, consider the type of food and the distance to travel. Remember the two-hour rule -- avoid leaving perishable foods in the "danger zone" for longer than two hours.
The "danger zone" is a potential risk for cold food that goes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hot food that falls below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping perishable foods colder than 40 degrees or warmer than 140 degrees is critical because bacteria can multiply rapidly in any perishable food left in the "danger zone" for more than two hours.
People traveling a long distance might bring non-perishables such as rolls, breads and cookies. Those traveling about a half hour or less can more safely bring perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products or foods containing these items. Nearer relatives also are a better choice for providing salads, relishes and vegetables.
When traveling, keep hot foods hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) by wrapping them in foil and then in heavy towels. Or, carry them with heated stones or in insulated wrappers or containers designed to keep food hot. Depending on the brand, most of the popular insulated casserole carriers are designed to keep foods hot for no longer than two or three hours. When arriving at your destination, place hot foods in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140 degrees or above until serving time.
Another possibility for making sure hot dishes are a real treat and not a source of foodborne illness is to carry all perishable ingredients in an ice chest and come early. Then prepare and cook the food after you arrive at your holiday destination.
Pack perishable cold foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Meat and poultry dishes may be packed while still frozen; in that way they stay colder longer. Place cold foods in a cooler with loose ice or freezer packs so they remain at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. On arrival, place cold foods in the refrigerator.
If you have a question about meat, poultry or egg products, the United States Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline can help. The toll free number is 1-888-674-6854. The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time.
At other times, recorded messages can answer many frequently asked food safety questions. Questions can also be emailed to MPHotfirstname.lastname@example.org. Or, check out the Food Safety and Inspection service at www.fsis.usda.gov. Your local extension office can also provide answers to food safety questions.
Remember that if you travel with food, be sure to take a detour around the "danger zone." Keep hot food hot and cold foods cold. Make certain that all your holiday memories are pleasant ones.