The holiday season comes every year, but for me, never gets old.  I think of it as a time for celebration, fellowship, gratitude and renewal. And of course, there’s the food.  My favorite dish has always been the stuffing, and coming from Texas, I like it best with corn and jalapenos. For holiday breakfast, we like kolaches, casseroles, and tacos; for lunch, it’s tamales (nice break from leftover turkey). In our family, everyone pitches in — from filling the glasses to carving the turkey. The sense of working together as a unit is special to me, and enhances my appreciation for our nation’s Veterans.

Regardless of your family’s traditions, it’s important to practice food safety this holiday season to ensure a happy and healthy time for all. Though we’ve all broken a rule of food safety at some point (I’ve been known to sneak a bite of raw cookie dough), recognizing the common food mistakes and using the following holiday food safety tips can prevent food-borne illness. Young children, elderly, and people with chronic illnesses are at highest risk from getting seriously sick from improperly cooked or stored food.

Time flies when we’re having fun  If food is left sitting out too long, it can grow bacteria rapidly and become unsafe to eat. It’s easy to get sidetracked with holiday festivities, but take a minute to set a timer. Refrigerate perishable foods/drinks within two hours. This way, you can safely enjoy the leftovers for days to come. For a guide on proper food cooling and storage check out keeping your food safe.

Veggies first.  Not only can snacking on veggies first instead of other higher calorie items prevent holiday weight gain,  prepping the veggies or other ready-to-eat foods before handling raw meat or eggs can prevent cross-contamination of harmful bacteria. Sanitize cutting boards, soap dispenser and faucet handles, and utensils between tasks. Change rags and kitchen towels regularly. Visit the FDA for more information on preventing cross contamination.

The heat is on. A thermometer is a must-have kitchen tool. Taking a few seconds to check the temperature of the delectable dishes you’ve prepared (meats and casseroles especially) can help prevent food-borne illness. There are several easy to use types of thermometers.

My favorite is an oven-safe probe with cord, which beeps when the food has reached the right temp, which also helps prevent overcooking. Keep a minimum internal temperature chart posted on the fridge.

Problem with holiday weight gain? You’re not alone! Check out MOVE! weight management strategies for special occasions to have an enjoyable holiday season without the weight gain. Your registered dietitian can provide more strategies tailored to your lifestyle.

Finally, December is national pear month.  Pears are a tasty and versatile fruit. With the skin, they are an excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C.  They can be used in a variety ways- salads, main dishes, snacks, desserts. Jazz up your leftover ham or turkey sandwiches by adding thinly sliced pears for a sweet/savory combination, or pickle your pears for a tangy addition to salads. Learn everything about pears, including tasty recipes.

Doriann CowanAbout the author: Doriann (Dori) Cowan, MS, RD, CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in the Primary Care clinic at the Lake City, Florida VA Medical Center.  Dori is passionate about providing Veterans with the education and support needed to take control of their health.  She enjoys cooking, woodworking, kayaking, and hiking with her husband and dog.

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Published on Dec. 22, 2015

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