Shop Smart: Cooking do's, don'ts for a New Year's feast

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Cooking is a beloved parts of many New Year's celebrations. But if you don't want your guests to join the 1 in 6 people who get food poisoning each year in the U.S., Consumer Reports offers this guide to selecting, storing, cooking and serving holiday staples.

• Choose the right meat. If you're picking up a roast from a standalone refrigerator case at the supermarket, don't take the package on top, especially if it's above the edges of the case, suggests Francis Largeman-Roth, a dietitian in New York City. "Those cases only keep things truly cold as far as the walls of the case go up," she says.

Look for cuts of meat that are lean, defined as less than 10 grams of total fat, no more than 4.5 grams of saturated fat and fewer than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. The label can provide clues. For example, cuts that include the word "round" are the lowest in fat, with "loin" a close second, says Heather Mangieri, a dietitian in Pittsburgh and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

• Store and prep properly. How long one can keep a turkey before cooking it is one of the most common questions posed to the Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry hotline around holiday time, according to dietitian and hotline staffer Tina Hanes. (To reach the hotline, call 1-888-674-6854 or send an email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov.)

Thawing meat in the fridge is the simplest way to defrost it, but make sure you leave ample time. Defrosting in cold water in the sink is quicker but more labor-intensive, since you should change the water every 30 minutes. If you're crunched for time, you can defrost meat in a microwave, but cook it immediately afterward because some areas may have already started to cook. Never thaw meat on a counter, which will put it in the "danger zone" of 40 to 140 degrees F, where bacteria can multiply more rapidly.

And however tempting it is, experts say that you should avoid rinsing poultry (and fish) before cooking because it can splatter potentially contaminated droplets of water around your sink and kitchen.

• Cook it enough. In a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of 1,011 American adults, 39 percent said that they had used a meat thermometer at some point in the past year. And only 8 percent said that they always used one. Even if you're an experienced cook and think you can tell by color or texture if something is done, the experts that Consumer Reports consulted said the same thing: You can't.

Check the meat with a thermometer, and it will be happy New Year's for you and your guests.


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