Super Bowl LVI: Check out the USDA’s food safety checklist before setting out your spread

With an estimated run time of four hours, Super Bowl entertaining is a marathon, not a sprint, elevating food safety to a top priority as millions of Americans prepare to watch the big game.

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In turn, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered the following tips to keep foodborne illnesses at bay while watching the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Feb. 13.

“No matter who you’re rooting for, foodborne illness is a dangerous opponent we face during the game,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a prepared statement, noting that “millions” of people suffer food poisoning annually but attention to detail can keep the party going.

“Following guidance on keeping food at safe temperatures, proper hand-washing and avoiding cross-contamination will protect you and your party guests,” Vilsack added.

Considering most Super Bowl viewers tend to graze, nibbling on a wide variety of finger foods and snacks throughout the lengthy broadcast, hosts should be mindful that perishable foods such as chicken wings, meatball appetizers and deli wraps, as well as cut fruit and vegetable platters, face the risk of breeding dangerous bacteria levels after only two hours in the open, the USDA stated.

The simplest game plan is to put out only small quantities of food at a time, replenishing as needed, rather than risk the growth of harmful bacteria on neglected munchies, the agency stated.

Meanwhile, hosts should also remember the USDA’s Four Steps to Food Safety:

  • Clean: Wash hands for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking and after contact with raw meat and poultry. After cleaning surfaces that raw meat and poultry have touched, apply a commercial or homemade sanitizing solution that can be as simple as combining 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • Separate: Avoid cross-contamination between raw meat or poultry and ready-to-eat foods by separating cutting boards, plates and utensils used for the different items.
  • Cook: Confirm foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature by using a food thermometer.
  • Chill: Chill foods promptly if not consuming immediately after cooking. Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours.

The agency also offered the following tips:

Cook food to a safe internal temperature. Meat – including whole beef, pork and lamb, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (with a 3-minute delay), while ground meats should reach 160 degrees; both ground and whole poultry should reach 165 degrees; fish and shellfish should reach 145 degrees and leftovers and casseroles should be reheated to 165 degrees. Chicken wings present a particular challenge, so hosts are advised to test several different wings with a food thermometer and to continue heating all wings if any one of those tested registers below 165 degrees.

Beware the Danger Zone. The USDA cautioned hosts that bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so hot foods should be kept at at least 140 degrees by placing them in a preheated oven, on warming trays, in chaffing dishes or in slow cookers.

Safeguard your takeout. Catered or carryout items picked up in advance should be divided into smaller portions or pieces, placed in shallow containers and refrigerated until ready to reheat and serve. Likewise, takeout that arrives warm can be maintained in a preheated oven, on a warming tray or in a chafing dish or slow cooker.