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story.lead_photo.caption Produce sits on shelves at a grocery store in Brooklyn, N.Y., in this January 2019 file photo.

The holiday season is here, and during the covid-19 pandemic, there are many tips for having healthy holidays, according to Mary Ann Kizer, Jefferson County family and consumer sciences agent.

"Food safety is most important after abiding by covid guidelines such as limiting the size of family gatherings. Freezing leftovers will save dollars for Christmas. And who wants to try new recipes for leftovers?" Kizer said.

Before shopping, people should make sure the refrigerator is set at 40 degrees F. or lower. Store meat and poultry in the plastic bags provided at the meat counter. Place in the lowest drawer or on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator.

Wash skins of fresh fruits and vegetables with cool running water before storing in the refrigerator or on the counter. With food safety in mind, people should wash their hands with soap and warm, running water for 20 seconds before handling food.

"If you have a cut on your finger or hand, wear food-grade gloves to prevent bacteria from entering the wound," Kizer said.

Always defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator, or in cold water, or in the microwave. With a turkey, allow 24 hours of thawing in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds of turkey. Therefore, allow 3 days to thaw a 15-pound turkey. Plan to have the turkey thawed for no more than 2 days before cooking, Kizer said.

Food safety recommendations change as scientists study bacteria. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture now recommends preparing turkey, chicken and meat without rinsing to prevent the spread of germs in the kitchen.

Be sure to clean countertops before, during, and after food preparation. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and fruit. Color-coded cutting boards are a good reminder to keep foods separated, she said.

Allow 20 minutes per pound for cooking a defrosted turkey in a 350-degree F oven. Always use a food thermometer to make sure meat and baked goods are fully cooked. Insert the thermometer so the "dimple" is in the food. A whole turkey is cooked when the internal temperature, measured in the deepest part of the breast is 165 degrees F. For people who want their turkey more done, cook to 170 degrees F. in the deepest part of the breast and 180 degrees F. in the inner thigh.

Stuffing should be cooked to 165 degrees F. whether it is baked in the turkey or in a separate dish. Leftovers should be heated to 165 degrees F. before eating.

Freezing leftovers can help stretch one's food dollar during the holiday season and throughout the year. Casseroles can be frozen in disposable aluminum baking dishes and covered with foil. Write the date frozen on a label placed on the foil. Most casseroles can go straight into the oven for baking without thawing. If the aluminum is flimsy, place a baking sheet, such as a cookie sheet or pizza pan, under the casserole before baking.

Leftover canned vegetables can be safely frozen. First, pour the vegetables out of the can with their liquids into an airtight freezer storage container or a zip-top freezer bag. If needed, add extra water to cover vegetables. Press as much air out of the zip-top freezer bag as possible and lay flat to save freezer space.

For turkey or chicken leftovers, here are easy recipes:

EASY POT PIE

• Cut 3 cups of leftover vegetables (such as green beans or carrots) into bite-sized pieces. Mix vegetables with 2 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken. Add a can of low-sodium cream of chicken soup and ½ cup of water or milk. Pour into 9x9-inch baking dish.

• In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose baking mix, ½ cup low-fat milk, and one egg. Pour over filling.

• Bake at 400°F for 30-40 minutes, until crust is cooked and brown.

CHICKEN AND DRESSING CASSEROLE

• Crumble a pan of prepared cornbread into a mixing bowl. Add two cups shredded cooked chicken or turkey and 1 cup frozen chopped onion, celery and bell pepper blend. If desired, saute vegetables.

• Beat one egg and add to mixture. Stir in 1½ to 2 cups chicken broth, ¼ teaspoon poultry seasoning or sage, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Pour into 9x9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until set and brown.

"May you be blessed with happy, healthy holidays," Kizer said.

Details: Mary Ann Kizer, Jefferson County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent, at mkizer@uaex.edu, (870) 534-1033 or on Facebook @UAEXJeffersonCoFCSMaryAnnKizer.

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