From piping-hot poultry to peppermint-infused drinks, food is second only to family on the list of things to look forward to during the holiday season.
During the traditional festivities, it may be OK to let go and let out your waistband, but you should never let your guard down when it comes to proper food safety.
Indeed, family gatherings can be breeding grounds for bad habits and food-borne bacteria alike.
Ruth Frechman, R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association offers her tips on three mistakes to avoid if you don’t want to unwrap the unwelcome present of food poisoning during your holiday celebrations:
Careless cross-contamination: It’s early in the morning and you’re busy stuffing the 20-pound turkey that’s going to be the highlight of the evening’s feast. Various family members trickle into the kitchen, seeking breakfast and coffee. You set out a bowl of fresh fruit to quiet their rumbling stomachs until you’ve fired up the pancake griddle, but if you haven’t washed your hands first, your family may have been better off not eating breakfast at all. Juice from raw poultry and other meats often harbors gut grinding bacteria such as E. Coli, so it’s vital to keep uncooked meats far away from ready-to-eat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Frechman suggests using separate cutting boards for raw meats and fish and thoroughly washing all surfaces with clean water and a sanitizing solution after use.
Prolonged party platters: Forget the flu, one of the biggest health hazards during a holiday party is food that has been left out too long. Buffet-style set ups are great for noshing while making the rounds at a casual gathering, but plates shouldn’t be left out in the open air for longer than two hours, according to Frechman. That’s how long it takes for illness-causing bacteria to grow.
Lazy leftover re-heats: Those day-after turkey sandwiches may be harboring some nasty microbes if you don’t re-heat them properly. The magic number that will kill most harmful bacteria is 165 degrees, says Frechman, who also suggests using a food thermometer when warming up leftovers to make sure they reach the necessary temperature. And don’t plan on living off of your leftovers for more than four days; beyond that, they’re probably no longer safe to eat.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor