There's a football game coming up this weekend apparently - even though the folks with the National Football League don't want you to specifically mention the name of the end-of-season championship.  Many people celebrate these sort of games with parties that involve food of some sort.  While I'm not a football fan (I've never watched a single minute of a game) I do like to cook and I often get questions from my friends on everything from what to serve for a party like this to how to prepare it.

I recently noticed that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued some tips for safe handling practices for Big Game food prep.  (They used the actual trademarked name, but I guess a government agency can...).  Their tips are good and I would agree with what they have to offer.  They include the following tips:

  • Don't wash poultry before you cook it.  Many people think that rinsing chicken under a faucet "washes" off bacteria in some way.  In fact, running it under water increases the chances of bacterial cross-contamination as the pressure of the water can cause whatever bacteria may be present to be spread around the sink area - with potential for other items becoming contaminated.
  • Make sure poultry (we're probably talking chicken wings for this party) is cooked to an internal temperature of 165.  I always plead with whoever will listen that every kitchen needs an instant-read probe-style thermometer;  knowing the temperature of the food you're preparing gives you the confidence in knowing when (or if) it's done.
  • Maintain that any food you're "holding" for future consumption is stored warm - at least 140 or above.
  • Cold foods should be kept at 40-degrees of below.  Ice can be your friend here;  nest food in containers inside bowls of ice to keep them cold.

I'll address one additional item that I often hear from Northlanders:  Keeping food outside on your deck or in your garage is not a proper means of storing cold foods.  Many people think of the Great Outdoors as a giant refrigerator.  Yes, the temperature outside of our home in the winter is often as cold (or colder) than a refrigerator.  But many factors play into the stability of that temperature.  Sunshine, a lack of wind, and the insulation factor of the packaging you have the food in can all contribute to variations in the temperature of the food you're storing outside.  In addition, have you seen the wildlife that runs around your yard?  Storing food on your deck or front steps allows easy access to the neighborhood squirrels, rabbits, dogs, fox, mice, etc.  If you really lack the refrigerator space and need to store something outside to keep it cold - consider storing your beverages.  Canned or bottled pop and beer could be stored outside to keep it cold;  however, I would still wash the containers off before consuming them.