People are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning during the festive season, says the Food Safety Information Council.
That period between Christmas and New Year, we are not only entertaining with friends, it’s when we are most likely to have a multi-generational family event.
So you have everyone from grandparents to pregnant women, young children and everyone in between for a big meal. And it’s hot.
Suddenly everyone is in the kitchen, the fridge is being opened all the time, there is not enough room in the fridge, so you risk leaving things out.
Combine all those factors and you have a setting ripe for food poisoning.
Especially when you consider you have the most vulnerable groups, the elderly and very young, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems joining you for a meal.
It’s a warning which is issued each holiday season but is too often ignored, especially when there are other stresses to worry about.
We all just think, ‘oh, we’ll risk it’, but the reality is, you really need to weigh up if it is worth risking.
Too often we risk food poisoning for the sake of efficiency. Instead of carving up the turkey or the chicken and then popping it straight back in the fridge and taking more as needed, we leave the platter in the middle of the table. Once cooked, two hours is the general safe period.
But add up the time before the family sits down for the meal, getting everyone settled, cutting and dishing up, eating, going back for seconds and really, you are not leaving yourself with a lot of time.
And while meats like poultry and seafood often prompt us to at least think twice, there are other dangers on the table we don’t think about enough.
Soft cheeses are one. That’s your Bries and your Camemberts. They can pose a big danger to those vulnerable groups, so it might be best to just leave them off the menu and concentrate on other foods.
People tend to think ham is really safe, but ham used to be a lot more salty than it is now, so they don’t tend to keep safely for as long.
If you do have a lot of ham left over, it might be best to cut off a big piece, slice it and freeze it instead of keeping it in the fridge.
Cream desserts, especially those with raw eggs like tiramisus, can also pose risks.
You’ve got your big lunch ready, everything fits in the fridge when suddenly Aunt so-and-so turns up with a giant tiramisu and you have no where to put it, so it ends up out of a chilled environment for a lot longer than something with dairy and raw eggs should.
Then you have your cream dips, and I’m talking about the ones you make yourself here.
Often you put them down on the table for a long time before the meal or after it and we tend to think it is OK because it is dip.
But think about what you have put into that dip. Instead of putting out an enormous amount, just put out a little and replenish it from the fridge as the day goes on.
Embracing the Boy Scout motto is key to enjoying a safe and happy holiday meal, where overindulging is the only health leftover.
Take a cooler bag to ensure your refrigerated items stay cool and keep the meats separate from your salad.
Look at what you can really keep cool in your fridge. If you don’t have enough room, then think about whether you really need a giant turkey as well as ham as well as prawns.
Run your kitchen like a well-run restaurant, where you have things happening in the proper order and then everything is cleaned. Don’t cut up your lettuce while you have the turkey or chicken raw and defrosting on the bench.
Wash your chopping boards with hot water and soap and dry them properly. Wash your hands and use a clean nail brush while you are at it.
A final piece of advice is one which can be put into practice across the entire festive season.
“Take a breath, take time to think and map out the best way to do things.
“It’s when we rush around that we make the big mistakes.”
TIPS FOR FOOD PREPARATION
Make sure there is room in the fridge before heading out.
When shopping get your meats, dairy and anything that needs to be kept cool last.
Take cooler bags which can help you separate the meats from the rest of your groceries.
Buy fresh meat where possible – and if you can’t ask your butcher or grocer to defrost your bird in their cool room.
If you have to defrost your bird at home, keep it in the most consistently cool area of the house, popping it back into the fridge during any hot periods.
Use a meat thermometer for any minced or rolled meat (hamburger patties, sausages, etc) or poultry – 77 degrees is a safe temp.
Don’t prepare your salads or vegetables while you are preparing meat.
Keep your cold food cold and your hot food hot. Even if that means serving and then taking it off the table.
FOODS TO WATCH
Seafood – after two hours out of the fridge, it really should go.
Poultry, especially chicken – cook until there is no pink and the juices run clear, make sure it is not left out raw for long periods and once cooked, keep it safely. Can be re-heated once.
Other meats – two hours out is the maximum, after that you are risking bacterial infection.
Ham – unless you made it yourself to an older recipe, hams don’t tend to be as salted as they used to. Which means the shelf life is shorter. Cut up and freeze any large left overs to ensure safety.
Tiramisu and other dairy/raw eggs desserts – keep refrigerated and covered. Don’t allow cross contamination with meats. Very short shelf life. Same goes for the cream you might serve with cakes/puddings.
Home made dips – same story as the dairy desserts. Check ingredient list of store bought dips.
Soft cheeses – Brie, Camembert etc. Can not be left out very long. If there are people from the vulnerable groups present, might be best left off the menu.
Salads – ensure they have been kept free of all meat residue and juices, and wash well. Keep lettuces, baby spinach etc, well away from poultry while refrigerating and preparing.
RULES OF THUMB
Two hours unrefrigerated is generally OK as long as the food is out of the sun.
Two to four hours unrefrigerated, you are increasing the risk of food poisoning – especially if the food was not very fresh when first served, contains dairy or raw eggs or has been exposed to heat sources, including the sun.
Four or more hours unrefrigerated – throw it out.
People who have been recently unwell or have a compromised immune system
These groups should generally avoid risky foods such as pate, soft cheeses and anything containing raw eggs. Leftovers that are not going to be reheated well should also be avoided as a general rule.