By Anita Marlay
Have you ever had the stomach flu a day or two after a big holiday meal? Chances are it wasn’t a flu bug but rather a case of food poisoning. Food poisoning affects 76 million people a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is often mistaken for the flu.
Holidays are an especially challenging time to avoid food poisoning because cooks have more food than usual to manage, more hands are in the kitchen cooking, more home-cooked foods are consumed, less room is available in the refrigerator and leftovers often are handled improperly. In addition, holiday guests often include those that are more vulnerable to food poisoning. This includes the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and those with immune deficiencies. This holiday season, take special care to make sure you, your family and your guests are all safe from food contamination. Following are some top food safety tips.
Plan ahead. Make sure you have enough refrigerator space for everything that needs to be kept cold. If you don’t, it’s OK to use coolers — just make sure to use clean ice and keep the coolers drained as the ice melts. Although tempting, storing food outside or on the porch isn’t recommended. Outside temperatures can fluctuate too much and there is always the possibility of contamination by insects or animals. Prep your kitchen. Start with a clean workspace and clean utensils.
Wash the counters with hot, soapy water. Dry, then sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach in 1 gallon of water. Dry with paper towels. Do the same for cutting boards you plan to use. Make sure pots, pans and utensils are washed and clean. Keep a supply of clean kitchen towels or just use paper towels. Defrost safely: Meat should be defrosted in the refrigerator. Leave the meat in the original wrapper and place on a tray or in a pan and place on the lowest shelf of the fridge so no blood or liquid can drip onto other foods. Allow plenty of time to defrost: it takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. Don’t be tempted to let meat thaw on the counter overnight.
Cook clean: Many hands may lighten the work, but they also allow more opportunity for bacteria to invade your food. Just washing hands can eliminate half of all food borne illnesses. Make sure everyone starts with clean hands, and remind them to wash again between cooking tasks. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Everyone likes to sneak a taste of the food as it cooks so make sure tasting spoons are separate from serving spoons. Although tempting, discourage any tasting of raw cookie dough, cake batter or any food that contains raw eggs.