During the holidays, we gather with friends and family to celebrate the season and exchange gifts. Typically, food is involved in our get togethers.
My family travels back to Georgia each Christmas to celebrate on Christmas Eve. My mom prepares part of the meal; and I prepare (and transport) the other part. I know there are plenty of families who “cook and carry” their food during the holidays. If you are like me and plan to travel with prepared food this Christmas, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make sure your food remains safe during your journey.
The first thing to consider is what type of food you are transporting. Not everything requires the same level of care. High protein, moist foods are far more perishable than low protein, dry foods. Time and temperature affect these two types of food differently. This means that pound cake will travel just fine in the backseat of the family car for many hours. Ham, on the other hand, will not. So, let’s take a closer look to ensure that your ham arrives in as good a condition as your cake.
First, we must consider what qualifies as a highly perishable food. Think in terms of these ingredients: meat, dairy, eggs, and to a slightly lesser degree, vegetables. Roast beef, macaroni and cheese pie, giblet gravy and egg custard pie are all examples of high protein, high moisture foods. Potential bacteria that are present in the food can multiply to the point of being unsafe if given several hours at a warm temperature.
So, how are you supposed to make a long trip with perishable food and still arrive with a tasty, safe-to-eat product? There are two choices: make sure the food stays hot while you travel or make sure it stays cold. Bacteria hate extreme temperatures. Below 40oF, the bacteria growth factor decreases dramatically. Above 140 degrees, most (but not all) bacteria are killed. When traveling, it’s not really feasible to keep the temperature above 140 degrees for extended periods of time, so the option of keeping the food cold is the logical answer.
If at all possible, cook your food the night before you plan to travel, place it in shallow containers to cool, then cover it and place it into the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. The next day before you leave, pack your dish into a cooler with ice or ice packs so that the contents of the dish will remain cool during your travel time. When you arrive at your destination, remove your dish from the cooler, and reheat it to 165 degrees internally. This temperature will ensure that any lingering bacteria have been sufficiently reduced and the food is safe.
Proper cooling after cooking and then traveling with food at correct temperatures will ensure that your holiday food arrives safe to eat.