"As Easter and Passover are observed with family meals, they should be remembered for their religious significance, rather than food poisoning," said Bessie Berry, Manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nationwide toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline. "So we are urging folks to fight foodborne bacteria through a major food safety education program, 'Fight BAC.'TM "
Berry explained that the "Fight BAC"TM campaign is a joint public and private partnership effort to help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness by educating the public about safe food handling practices. The four cornerstones of the campaign involve these four key food safety rules:
- Wash hands and food surfaces often,
- Avoid cross-contamination (spreading bacteria from raw to cooked foods),
- Cook foods to proper temperatures using a meat thermometer to be sure, and
- Refrigerate perishable foods promptly (never leave out over two hours).
Fully cooked ready-to-eat hams may be heated to 140 degrees F at an oven temperature of 325 degrees F before serving. It also may be served cold. Fresh (raw) hams should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
Lamb and beef
Lamb and beef roasts should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F, in an oven set no lower than 325 degrees F. Ground meats, on the other hand, should cook to 160 degrees F; steaks and chops to 145 degrees F.
Eggs should be cooked thoroughly. "Since hard-cooked eggs are a favorite for Easter and the Passover Seder plate, special care should be taken," Berry advised. "Hard-cooked eggs should not be kept out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, so they should be hidden just before an Easter egg hunt, or just before the Passover Seder plate is ready to be set on the table."
The passover seder
Berry noted that serving the traditional Passover meal on the first night presents some food safety challenges as the entire meal must be prepared ahead so that everyone can participate in the Seder ceremony.
"Cold food can be arranged on platters ahead of time and served directly from the refrigerator," Berry explained. "The brisket, for example, can be thoroughly cooked ahead, sliced and refrigerated in a shallow pan, and then thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees F just before serving."
Berry cautioned that all perishable foods should not stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours. "Place leftovers in shallow containers, use within 3-4 days, or freeze. Thoroughly reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F."