Keeping your food safe this festive season |22 December 2023
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”. Indeed, it is, with Christmas and New Year right upon us. For many of us this is the time when we get the chance to indulge in our favourite dishes. But just as the taste of the dish is important, how safe the food is to consume should be at the top of the list.
Food poisoning is a problem all year round but especially on occasions when there are lots of food being prepared and served such as the festive season. We will share some tips to make sure that you reduce your risk of food contamination this year.
Wash your hands
We are all tired of hearing this but we really shouldn’t underestimate the power of having clean hands to stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food and eating. It is also important to make sure you wash your hands after feeding or touching your pets, using the toilet, touching garbage, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, taking care of a cut or wound and after preparing food.
Most of us don’t pay attention to how we wash our hands and for how long. Most of us just wet our hands, put some soap and are done in a few seconds. However, knowing the right technique and spending enough time can make a huge difference especially when handling food. Take at least 20 seconds to wash your hands as shown in the illustration.
Handle raw and fresh foods properly
If you’re planning to buy fresh meat, then it is best to do so one or two days before cooking it. During transportation keep the meat in a separate bag from any fresh produce like fruits, vegetables and cheese. When you’re doing your shopping, pick up the meat, fish, seafood, cheese and eggs just before you head for the checkout counter for payment.
If you know that you have some more errands to run, then leave the food shopping as the last thing for you to do before heading home to avoid leaving the fresh food items in the hot trunk of your car for a long time.
If you decide to buy frozen meat or seafood, then defrost them in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before preparation. Although it is not advisable, if you are out of time, submerge your meat in its original package (do not remove the package) in cold water and allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every half kilogramme of meat. Any defrosted meat or seafood should not be frozen again.
In the refrigerator, any defrosted, fresh or raw meats should not be placed on shelves above produce or other items which are consumed without cooking such as ham, cheese or fruits. This is because raw juices from meats might have harmful bacteria that may drip onto items placed below them. Since these items are not being cooked the risk of food poisoning is high.
Rinse fruits, vegetables and herbs thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove any surface dirt. You should also wash prepackaged green leafy vegetables to minimise bacterial contamination.
Know the ‘danger zone’
Most of us don’t really worry about what temperature our food is. To be honest many people don’t even have food thermometers at home. Despite that, it is good to be mindful that germs can grow rapidly in what is known as the ‘danger zone’, temperature between 5° celsius and 60° celsius.
Even if you don’t have a thermometer, a good rule of thumb is to ensure that after food is prepared, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. The best way to keep your food hot for instance if you’re not eating it immediately is to use a chaffing dish or bain-marie, especially when you have prepared a lot of food.
Refrigerate or freeze perishable food like meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, cut fruit, cooked rice, and leftovers within two hours when kept at room temperature. However, if food is kept in a hotter area such as in a hot car, then it should be stored within one hour. The temperature in your refrigerator should be set at 5° celsius or below and the freezer at 0° celsius or below.
It is advisable to use a food thermometer to make sure that meat, chicken, turkey and seafood have been cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill germs. If you don’t have a food thermometer, then you need to visually check that the meat is cooked. Begin by piercing the thickest part of the meat with a fork or skewer and check that the juices run clear; it is piping hot all the way through (it should be steaming); and there is no pink meat left.
Separate foods to avoid cross contamination
We know that it sounds a bit extreme, but it is actually better to have two chopping boards, ideally of two different colours so you don’t mix them up. You can use one for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish, while the other one can be used for cutting fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
As mentioned previously it is important that you keep meat, chicken, seafood, and eggs separate from all other fresh foods that are not cooked when you are doing your shopping and in the refrigerator. Prevent juices from meat, chicken and seafood from dripping or leaking onto other foods by keeping them in containers or sealed plastic bags. Store eggs separately, either in their original carton or in the designated area for eggs in your refrigerator.
It is very common for us to have leftovers during the festive season but this can also be a source of food contamination if not handled properly. Any leftovers should be divided into smaller portions by storing in several shallow containers. They should also be refrigerated within two hours after cooking. Leftovers which are stored in the refrigerator should be eaten within two to three days if they are cooked foods. If large amounts are left, consider freezing for later use. Any stored salads or cold dishes should ideally be consumed within 24 hours.
Before consuming leftovers, reheat until steaming hot. Soups, sauces and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute. Never taste leftover food that looks or smells strange. If you’re not sure, then it’s best to throw it out.
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Yours in health
The E4OH team