Food safety tips for the holidays

Food safety tips for the holidays


Sunday, December 15, 2019

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CHRISTMAS is in the air. Can't you just smell it? Freshly cut Christmas trees are on display in the plazas, with their wonderful aroma of pine.

Yes, there is also a lot of traffic on the roads, which can test your last nerve, but don't let that dampen the Christmas spirit which brings with it the promise of wonderful times with family and friends.

Then there are the special foods that are a feature of the Christmas season — the ham, the roast chicken, gungo rice and peas, sorrel, egg nog, fruit cake, and plum puddings. What would the Christmas holidays be without food, glorious food?

After all, there's no better way to enjoy Jamaican sunshine and the company of friends and family than with something delicious to share together.

That period between Christmas and the new year, we are not only entertaining with family and friends, it's when we are most likely to have a multi-generational family event. You might have everyone in for a big meal — from grandparents to young children and everyone in-between.

At some point everybody is in the kitchen, the refrigerator is being opened all the time, there is not enough room in the fridge, so you may leave things out. Throughout the entire year there is a risk for food-borne illnesses, but during the holiday season this risk seems to increase with lots of pooled food, large gatherings, and chaos in the kitchen.

While all that togetherness is heartwarming, it can also be a breeding ground for pathogens to spread. Being aware of this is the key to making sure everyone gets through the holidays without any bouts of sickness. Nothing can dampen the holiday spirit more than a rebellious stomach.

Starting with the kitchen itself, use hot water and soap to clean the sink, counters, cutting boards, pans, knives, meat thermometer, utensils, and serving pieces. To sanitise the countertop and cutting boards, wash with a diluted bleach solution of one tablespoon liquid bleach to one gallon of water.

Preparing and storing large amounts of food at home for the holidays can present their own challenges. When you go shopping for food, check that fresh cut fruits and vegetables like packaged salads and pre-cut melons are refrigerated. Keep meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods when they are being packed.

At home, prevent juices from meat, poultry and seafood from dripping or leaking onto other foods by keeping them in containers or sealed plastic bags. Refrigerate all cut, peeled or cooked fresh fruits and vegetables. Store eggs in the main compartment of the refrigerator. Seafood, another popular dish for holiday gatherings, requires special care. Make sure to buy only fresh seafood that has been refrigerated or properly iced.

When it's cooking time do not use the same cutting board without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dough and batter containing flour or eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E coli and salmonella. Do not taste or eat raw dough or batter that is meant to be baked or cooked. This includes dough or batter for cookies, cakes, pies, biscuits, pancakes, or pizza.

After cooking, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Cold food should be kept chilled or refrigerated until serving time. If you're putting together serving platters or picnic baskets that you intend to leave out for people's use for a period of time, try using iced trays and cold packs to keep the food at safe eating temperatures.

Wash your hands with soap and water during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:

• Before, during, and after preparing


• Before eating food;

• After handling pet food or pet

treats or touching pets;

• After using the toilet;

• After changing diapers or cleaning

up a child who has used the toilet;

• After touching garbage;

• Before and after caring for

someone who is sick;

• Before and after treating a cut or


• After blowing your nose,

coughing, or sneezing.

As much as we try to finish all that delicious food on the table, our eyes are often bigger than our stomach. Holiday meals can just keep on giving for the rest of the week! Although you might not feel like doing much after a big meal, it is very important that you refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking.

Bacteria multiply fastest at warm temperatures in the range between 40F and 140F. Therefore, leaving cooked food at room temperature is an invitation for bacteria to grow in your food. If cooked food has been left out for more than two hours, throw it away, because reheating will be unsafe.

If you're dealing with food that was cooked or consumed outdoors in hot temperatures, refrigerate it within one hour. Food should be allowed to cool to the point where steam is no longer coming from it before placing in the refrigerator. If you know — or even suspect — that food may have been left out unrefrigerated for four hours or more, it's better to throw it away than risk getting sick. When in doubt, chuck it out!

When reheating leftovers in a microwave, ensure the food is reheated evenly by stirring or rotating food halfway through cooking. Cold spots can easily breed harmful bacteria and make you sick.

Finally, if you are showing any symptoms of illness or have recently been sick, don't handle food. Leave the food prep and serving to others in your household, and enjoy the opportunity to put your feet up.

Happy holidays everyone!

Dr Wendy-Gaye Thomas is group technical manager, Technological Solutions Limited — a Jamaican food technology company. E-mail her at:

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