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Springtime is here and it brings very special holidays. Spring holidays are a great time for households to prepare their favorite dishes and participate in fun activities, like egg hunts and picnics.

To keep your loved ones safe and prevent food poisoning, it is important to follow proper food safety practices when shopping, preparing and serving those holiday dishes. Meat and eggs are foods requiring special handling to keep them safe.

Eggs are a popular picnic dish, and fun to decorate to use for egg hunts. But if not handled properly, they also could be the source of foodborne illness. When purchasing your eggs, inspect them to be sure they are all still intact. Get them home as quickly as you can, and store them in the refrigerator at 40 F or below in their original carton. When you are ready to cook them for recipes or to dye, wash your hands and surfaces before and after handling the raw eggs, and cool and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. When dyeing eggs, make sure that you are using food-grade dye if you plan to eat them afterwards.

Plastic eggs are best for egg hunts and decorations. If you plan to use hard-boiled eggs, make sure that they are not at room temperature for longer than two hours and wash them before consuming. If they are left at room temperature for longer than two hours, do not eat them.

Meat Safety

Popular meats for spring holidays are ham, beef and lamb. Similar to eggs, when purchasing meat, inspect the packaging to make sure it is still intact. Place meat in plastic bags provided at the meat counter and store it separately in your shopping cart to prevent meat juices from leaking on other items in your cart. Once you get home, refrigerate the meat at 40 F or below, or freeze it immediately. If freezing the meat, you can defrost it safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave if it is a small quantity that you plan to cook immediately. Defrosting can take several days in the refrigerator if it is a larger piece of meat, so be sure to plan ahead. When preparing the meat, wash your hands and surfaces such as cutting boards and countertops before and after handling. Please note that it is not recommended to wash meat before preparation.

To prevent food poisoning, meat needs to be cooked to a specific temperature to kill any bacteria that may be present. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the internal temperature of the meat should be taken with a calibrated food thermometer and reach the following temperatures:

• Ham that is fresh or smoked, and beef or lamb should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F and allowed to rest for at least three minutes.

• Fully cooked ham is safe to eat from the package without reheating; however, if reheating is desired, check the packaging for a USDA stamp and heat to an internal temperature of 140 F. (If there is no stamp, the ham was not packaged in a USDA-inspected plant, so it needs to be heated it to 165 F.)

Many families enjoy leftovers after holiday celebrations are over. Be sure to consume all leftovers within three-four days and if serving them hot, re-heat them to 165 F. Due to COVID-19 guidelines that are still in place, remember to try to keep gatherings small and limit them to those in the same household if possible. If celebrating with others outside your household, practice social distancing and wear masks, or gather outside, weather permitting.

Nicole McGeehan is a Penn State Extension food safety educator based in Monroe County.

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