Holiday Food Safety

One of the best parts of the Holiday season and celebrating this time of year is the food. Between the pies, potatoes, and masterfully cut and carved birds, the winter Holiday season is a truly gastronomic joy. However, along with the pleasure that comes along with eating Holiday dishes comes the risk of food borne illness. While food borne illness is always a concern in food preparation and presentation, the risks are even higher during the Holidays and other celebratory events, as food is left out on counters and stovetops for hours as guests come and go and serve themselves.

Despite the risks, there are ways to prepare, cook and serve food during the Holidays to ensure that safety remains as high a priority flavor. Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to food safety that will keep all parties safe and happy this Holiday season.

  • Time is not on your side. Bacteria are the main culprits behind food borne illness. The longer food is left out at room temperature, the more time the bacteria on the food have time to grow and reproduce. The more bacteria on a food, the more likely the dish is to cause illness. To prevent food borne illness during this holiday season, make sure that foods and dishes that require refrigeration remain outside of temperature control for no longer than four hours. To hold food for serving longer, place hot foods in heated holding equipment, such as catering equipment with a heat source, and place cold food in dishes atop ice to ensure that it remains cold.

When in question about how long a dish has remained outside of temperature control, or if it has been handled safely, do not serve the food.

  • Cover it up! Bacteria and other illness-causing agents are carried on the clothes, hands, and even in the mouths and hair of people. This means that uncovered food left out for service at a holiday party could easily be contaminated, as guests and family reach over, pass by, and talk near food on display. Hence the importance of covers for food and desserts at holiday parties. In addition to helping to maintain the proper temperature of each dish, covers help shield food from contamination from human saliva and other sources, thereby preventing foodborne illness.

  • Cool it, store it. Making sure that food is cooled and stored properly is just as important as following safety precautions when cooking and serving foods. Improper handling of foods following the cooking process can lead to the growth of bacteria that can cause illness. When placing leftovers in the refrigerator for future use, make sure that the dish is cool before placing it in the unit. Also make sure that the refrigerator is not already over-charged. Placing hot food in the refrigerator can raise the temperature of the entire unit, making food stored inside spoil early, or become unsafe, as bacteria grow faster at warmer temperatures.

  • Re-heat before you eat! Before reserving leftovers, always make sure to thoroughly re-heat the food. Reheating food helps to reduce the amount of illness-causing pathogens in the food to safe levels. (Bacteria are a natural part of every food. Cooking, freezing, refrigerating and reheating food helps to limit the growth of these illness-causing pathogens.)

  • New dish? Different spoon! In addition to every food having its own set of bacteria, which are natural to that food, every food has its own protein. Hence, an important aspect of preventing foodborne illness during the holiday season and beyond is ensuring that every dish has its own serving utensil, in order to prevent the cross-contamination of one food’s bacteria and proteins, into another food.Maintaining different utensils for different dishes is important for the prevention of bacteria-caused illnesses, and because it protects guests from allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to food are the body’s physical response to proteins from that food. When the utensil from one dish is also used in another, and the proteins from each are transferred between the two, guests can unknowingly be exposed to a food protein to which they have an allergy. This may cause very serious reactions and can be life-threatening.  If you must use a serving utensil in more than one dish, be sure to wash and sanitize the utensil before it is transferred from one food to the next.

  • Cleanliness is key! Poor sanitation practices and hygiene are two of the primary causes of foodborne illness. Therefore, the sanitation practices of everyone from the cook to guests who serve themselves will play a role in the safety of the food. To ensure the safety of the food, invite all guests to wash their hands before entering the kitchen area and beginning to serve themselves. Make sure that all bathrooms are well stocked with liquid soap and single-use hand towels. And as the host and cook, it is also important that you model good hand-washing and food handling practices for the safety and benefit of your guests.

Finally, remember that the old, very young, pregnant and chronically ill are part of vulnerable populations, which are more susceptible to food borne illness than healthy individuals of middle age. Hence, it is particularly important to follow safe food handling and preparation practices when serving these individuals.

By following these guidelines, you can keep meals safe and pleasant for all throughout this Holiday season.

Source: Black Women's Health