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Thanksgiving Cleaning & Food Safety Tips

Bringing a Dish to the Holiday Party

How to travel safely with prepared foods

In our "oh-so-busy" world, holiday entertaining is often a communal affair, with friends and relatives contributing to the feast.

But bringing a dish to share can be an unintentional invitation to unwanted guests – bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. To be sure these party crashers don't make it through the door, Nancy Bock, Vice President of Consumer Education and Meetings at the American Cleaning Institute, offers some tips for traveling safely with prepared foods.

Prepare with Care

Safe food travel starts with safe food preparation. That means clean hands, utensils and food preparation surfaces. Use hot water and soap to effectively get rid of bacteria. Thoroughly wash your hands before and after food preparation. Never, ever go directly from working with raw meat, poultry or seafood to working with other foods without washing your equipment – cutting boards, dishes and utensils – and your hands with soap and hot water. If you don't do this, you run the risk of transferring the bacteria that live in these uncooked foods to other items on your menu.

Cooked Foods

Divide cooked foods, including meats, gravy, dressing, stews and casseroles, into small containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately, as appropriate to the item. Using multiple small containers, rather than one large one, has many benefits. Cooked food will cool or freeze faster and more evenly, and can be thawed or thoroughly reheated in less time. When it's time to travel, smaller containers are easier to fit in a cooler. And don't worry if they take up more space – that's a good thing. A fully packed cooler maintains its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled.

Uncooked Foods

Even uncooked foods require some special attention. If you're bringing raw fruits or vegetables, remember that they don't receive the safety benefits that cooking provides.

  • Before purchasing or packing these items, check for visual signs of spoilage. These include unusual odors or colors, or shriveled, moldy or bruised items.
  • If possible, rinse just before preparing and serving. Use running water. If standing water is used, the microorganisms that have been rinsed off one item can be transferred to another.
  • If you need to bring them ready-to-eat, rinse, then blot dry with a paper towel and pack in containers or plastic bags. Make sure there is no excess liquid in the containers. Store them in the refrigerator until it's time to leave, and then pop them in the cooler.

Pack Safely

Pack the cooler as close to departure time as possible.

  • If the cooler is only partially filled, pack the remaining space with more ice packs or plastic bags filled with ice cubes. Use sealable bags so that if the ice begins to melt, the liquid is contained.
  • Once the cooler is packed, consider the best location in your car. If you are traveling in a warm climate with the air conditioner running, keep the cooler in the car; in a colder climate with the heat running, store it in the trunk.

Clean Ideas: Make Room for Turkey

Cleaning out the refrigerator before the holiday treats arrive

Take the time to clean out the refrigerator before the holiday goodies arrive so there will be plenty of room to store perishable eats and treats. Follow these helpful tips:

  • Read your refrigerator manual for specific cleaning instructions and for information on removing shelves, drawers, and locating and cleaning condenser coils.
  • Unplug the refrigerator and remove everything inside.
  • Discard anything that looks or smells bad; check the expiration dates on the remaining items.
  • Put perishable foods in a cooler or ice chest to keep them at a safe temperature.
  • Scrub the interior walls of the refrigerator, using warm water and a mild detergent. Rinse and wipe dry.
  • Remove drawers and shelves and use the same process to clean them.
  • Clean the condenser coils, following the manufacturer's instructions. Coils are usually located underneath the refrigerator. Remove the grill and vacuum, using the vacuum's long, narrow attachment.
  • Wash the rubber gasket around the door, using warm water and mild dish detergent.
  • Wipe down bottles, jars and other containers before putting them back in the refrigerator.
  • Plug in the refrigerator.

Download Food Safety Cleaning Tips