So when it comes time to host your big-game party, take heed: It's always four-down territory when it comes to food safety. Remember: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.
The culmination of the pro football season ranks behind only Thanksgiving as the biggest chow-down in the United States. From the pregame show to the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy to the winning team, it's a long day. And just like the game, it's critical to practice effective clock management with the buffet.
If cold foods are left out of refrigeration and hot foods cool down too long, that's poor defense against harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning. While much of the focus on this year's football event surrounds the game being played in an outdoor, cold-weather stadium, it's the room temperature in your home that could spell trouble for your guests. If the buffet has been sitting out for two hours or more without a heat source for your hot foods or a cold source for cold food, call a time-out and remove it from the eating game. Hot foods should be 140 F or above, and cold foods should be 40 F or below.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends the following guidelines for your football feast:
Make it a clean game: You take great care to keep that official team jersey clean from salsa and barbecue sauce on game day, but it's even more important to always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash dishes, utensils and food contact surfaces with soap and hot water.
Separate: While the opposing teams will be mixing it up all game long, beware of cross-contamination, and keep the raw meat and poultry away from cooked foods. Use separate plates and utensils in preparing veggies and meat and poultry.
Don't practice the hurry-up offense when it comes to cooking: Use a food thermometer to make certain meat and poultry are cooked all the way through to a safe internal temperature:
- Steaks should be cooked to 145 F, with a three-minute rest time;
- Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F; and
- Poultry should be cooked to 165 F.
Even if it looks like all is lost for your team, chill out. Or when it comes to the food, keep it cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving bowls and replace them with each helping. As for the leftovers, refrigerate or place in the freezer within two hours to prevent bacteria from multiplying.
'Ask Karen,' the virtual food safety representative, is available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov. Weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is available by calling 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) or via live chat at AskKaren.gov.