What are the “Four Magic Reminders of Holiday Food Safety”?
As one prominent food poisoning lawyer, Ron Simon, reminds us, nearly one in six Americans will get food poisoning this year. For most of them, they will recover within a matter of days. Unfortunately, many thousands will require hospitalization and several thousand people will succumb to their illness and pass away. No matter how serious or mild their case of food poisoning, one thing is certain, no one wants to get food poisoning during the holidays. The hosts and cooks do not want to be the ones responsible for getting people sick, and the guests and patrons do not want to be sick during a time that should be remembered fondly as a time to celebrate life, joy, and family.
To that end, its time to review the Four Magic Reminders of Holiday Food Safety! There are many keys to food safety, at any time of the year, but these five are often among the most important.
ONE: A Clean Kitchen is a Safe Kitchen: So Much of Good, Safe Food is about the Kitchen Itself
Safe food preparation depends on a well-organized and clean kitchen for many reasons. First, storing raw food is important, with adequate cold storage for meats and other perishables a necessity. Foods like raw meats should always be stored below raw vegetables of products that might be served without proper heating – such as butter, cream, or fruits. Second, having space to prepare each dish is important, with meat preparation and the preparation of other dishes requiring either their own space (or separate tools like cutting boards and knives), or very thorough cleaning in-between. Cross contamination during the food preparation process can cause salmonella from a turkey, for example, ending up in devilled eggs or in a tossed salad. Always keep raw foods that may be contaminated away from foods and other food preparation areas. Good planning is often needed when multiple dishes will be prepared in the same kitchen or even on the same counter. Wiping surfaces with a bleach-mixture or disinfecting spray and wiping thoroughly will help ensure food safety.
TWO: Warm Hearts and Warmer Food are Good for the Holidays
The key to all good meats, it is often said, is to not over-cook them. But the opposite can be said as well. No meat is good if it is under-cooked. Obviously, there are some exceptions (whether it is a good/safe idea or not) to this rule, such as oysters, sashimi, and some beef dishes. These are made to be eaten raw, but the patrons should at least be warned of the risk inherent in doing so. For most other meat dishes, a minimum temperature can be reached without spoiling the meat. Poultry, beef, pork, and lamb all require heating to an internal temperature that is lethal to the pathogens common to those types of meats. This is most difficult with “whole” poultry, as the temperature of the breast, leg or wing is often reached well before the internal temperature of the thigh or joints within the bird. During cutting any bacteria within the carcass can be spread easily to the other parts of the bird. Paying attention to the temperature requires patience and is aided by having at least two thermometers on hand in a traditional family kitchen.
THREE: Sitting Around the Table is Good for Conversation, but Bad for Food
One of the advantages of the holiday season is the ability to slow down and enjoy life. This often means lengthy meals, drawn out over many hours, as people come and go. While this is an excellent time to have good conversation, play games, or to watch a favorite holiday movie or sporting event, it is also a time to inadvertently leave food out for many hours. Food that is heated should remain heated, and food that is meant to be served cold should be kept cold. Room temperature is dangerous because it allows pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter), to grow. The old rule-of-thumb was to never leave food at room temperature for more than two hours. Many professionals now put that limit at one hour, especially if the temperatures are high (such as 80 or 90 degrees). While challenging, it is important to try and motivate guests to the table during a discrete period of time to fill their plates, eat and enjoy, while placing foods back into heat or cold storage as soon as possible.
When storing remaining food, try and cool as quickly as possible and store at a temperature below 40 degrees.
FOUR: Never be the Last One to Leave – the Party or the Refrigerator
As a guest at a party or as left-over food in the refrigerator, the rule applies! With left-overs, unless safely frozen (such as turkey meat saved for a delicious green chili turkey soup!), left-overs should be consumed within 48 hours if they were not left out for an inordinately long period of time. They can be safely re-heated with a microwave or in an oven to, in most cases, to a safe 165 degrees. Foods kept in excess of two days may no longer be safe to eat, and should be discarded. This can also apply to pastries and goodies that were set out for the holidays, though these may be good for additional time depending on how they are made and if they require refrigeration in the first place.
For everyone to enjoy the holidays, which is always the goal, following the Four Magic Reminders of Holiday Food Safety may be the way to start. Educating oneself in good food safety is essential. For the most authoritative information, please see https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation – a good source for safe food handling and preparation.