Food safety tips for the holidays
At no other time in the nation are more chickens consumed than the Christmas season. This is usually a period of rejoicing and feasting for everyone but feasting can quickly turn sour if guests and family members become ill as a result of the food they consume.
Food borne illnesses are common during festivities, with symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea which may start a few hours or even days after the consumption of contaminated food. These symptoms often end after a few hours or days in healthy individuals but may be life-threatening for others whose immune systems are already weakened such as the sick, elderly, pregnant, as well as people with HIV, cancer and other ailment.
For everyone in charge of shopping and or cooking, here are some safety rules to follow while shopping, transporting, cooking or serving food during the holidays.
Ensuring food safety while shopping
Whether you shop at the open stalls or departmental stores, there are certain precautions to be taken:
- Cleanliness is key
Buy your grocery and other food items from stores or facilities that are generally clean and where these items are handled safely. Do not buy fly-infested meat or fish; do not buy from retailers who display their wares along the drain.
- No unwholesome fruits and vegetables
Do not buy unwholesome perishables such as tomatoes, pepper and onions, simply because of reduced price. Crushed fruits and veggies are easily contaminated by sickness-causing bacteria.
- Separate raw animal foods from other items
During shopping, animal-source foods such as raw meat, chicken, turkey and fish should be separated from other items in your shopping cart, placed in separate carry-out bags, and kept apart in your vehicle so as prevent their juices from dripping on the other items.
- Watch out for possible chemical contamination
At the point of purchase, you may not be able to tell what has been done to the goods you are about to pay for but it is important to investigate how the grocers take care of their goods before display. Some of them wash fruits and vegetables with soaps or detergents to remove dirt and enhance appeal. Soap and other cleaning agents should be avoided as the porous surfaces of fresh produce can absorb the ingredients. If you are not sure, buy directly from farmers or farm-sales points.
- Check packaging of processed foods
As this is a season when many canned products are used as ingredients in the preparation of delicacies, be careful not to buy foods that are past their expiry dates or if the cans are bulging or dented as these may indicate spoilage or contamination. Additionally, supermarkets often offer products that are close to expiry at a discount, especially during the holiday season but as a consumer, you have to tread with caution as these products may be damaged and unfit for consumption.
- Buy perishables last
No matter the number of items on your shopping list, perishables should be moved to the bottom. This will reduce the time available for spoilage organisms to work on your food before you reach your destination. You may take along ice in cooler to keep your meat, chicken and seafood cool and avoid spoilage during transportation if you have a long way to travel.
Food safety in the kitchen
- Clean hands and surfaces
Clean your hands, surfaces and all food items thoroughly. Hand-washing is very important for the prevention of contamination, especially after touching raw meat and unwashed vegetables. Wash your hands several times as needed during the food preparation process. Hard-to-clean surfaces and utensils should be washed with warm water and soap. Keep counter tops, chopping boards, sink and cooking utensils clean at all times
- Keep fresh produce refrigerated and raw meat frozen
Each produce has required storage temperature which must be maintained to prevent multiplication of bacteria. Fruits and vegetables must be refrigerated as soon as you return home from the market while meat, chicken and seafood are best kept frozen if you are not cooking immediately. We often cook more than we need so when all the guests are gone and you are left with the remaining food in the warmer, transfer them into shallow storage containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately as harmful bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature.
- Separate food items
When foods belonging to different categories are packed or stored together, cross contamination is bound to occur.
Do not allow vegetables and other food that will not be cooked to come in contact with meat juices which may already be contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Meat, chicken and seafood should be stored at the bottom of the freezer.
Separate cutting boards and kitchen utensils should be used for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
- Cook food thoroughly
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Ensure that meat, chicken, fish and eggs are cooked thoroughly as they may carry germs that cause food poisoning if the products are not cooked correctly. Avoid eating raw eggs or undercooked meat and remember to keep children away from licking cake batter or eating pastry dough which usually contain raw eggs. Also, if you are making or buying grilled meat or chicken, ensure that it is thoroughly cooked.
- Do not leave served food unattended!
Serve foods only when the persons who will eat them are ready to do so. Do not leave food on plates while flies have the first go. Cutleries should also be kept away from flies.