Safely preparing holiday foods ahead of time

Make your holiday a little less stressful by preparing some food ahead of time.

A turkey and cranberry holiday meal.
Photo: Pixabay/Superfit asia.

It’s a busy time of year for all. There are seasonal parties, shopping, volunteering activities and cooking that take time and planning. Also, there are a few things we can do to prepare for these events. Make some items ahead of time to relax and know your food is safe. Then, take time to enjoy family and friends. This will lighten the stress of last-minute holiday cooking.

Michigan State University Extension recommends cleaning your workspace and surfaces, as well as keeping your hands washed. Cleaning and sanitizing are one of the easiest ways to prevent bacteria from traveling from one food item to another. Preventing cross-contamination is a crucial step in preventing the spread of a possible food-borne illness. Prevention is easily reached when consciously deciding to keep a kitchen clean and wash your hands often. Keep sponges and dish clothes bacteria-free too. Remember, it’s your kitchen, so it is your rule; everyone needs to wash their hands often if helping to prepare food. Designate who is helping in your kitchen and do not let anyone that is sick work around food at your event.

Know how many people will be served to make the appropriate amount of food. Also limit the number of items you serve. There may be certain foods that are family traditions, which may make limiting your items difficult. Why not start a new tradition with less food? Assign favorite dishes to different family members. Ensure everyone is aware of any allergens that may be used to prepare food you serve. That includes the food brought in by other visitors.

Consider the amount of refrigerator space you have. Lack of storage space may be a reason to limit the number of prepared salads. Or request others to bring coolers with ice so food can be safely stored. Make-ahead items can be vegetables and homemade dressing. Do this the day before your meal plans. Preparing side dishes the day before will allow you more time to enjoy your company on the day of the event. Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables the day before and store them in the refrigerator above raw meats. Vegetable trays can be put together on the day of the gathering. Remember all cut fruits and vegetables need to be refrigerated.

The University of Nebraska states that making casseroles a day ahead can be very helpful when saving time. Assemble the casserole, place the item in the refrigerator and bake the next day. It tastes just as fresh as if you created it the day of the event.

Other foods that can be prepared a day or two ahead are cakes, pies and other baked goods. These foods can be stored for many days ahead if they are properly stored in a refrigerator. One recommendation is to keep them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. Cakes and pies can be prepared and frozen for the special day. Make sure to wrap them several times with plastic to keep them airtight. Be aware that some pies, such as a pumpkin pie, must be cooked to be stored correctly. Fruit pies can be frozen unbaked, thawed and baked the day of the event or the night before. If baking them while frozen allow extra time for baking.

Being prepared includes having items safely stored in advance. If frozen, allow time for each item to thaw in refrigeration. You can use a cooler for extra refrigeration space. Store foods in a refrigerator set at 41 degrees Fahrenheit, or below to keep bacteria from growing. Using leftovers in two or three days is recommended for best quality. It is essential to keep foodborne illnesses away so our family and friends can stay healthy, and everyone can enjoy the holiday season.

For more information on food safety, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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