Don’t let Food Poisoning Ruin the Holidays
We love to entertain our families and larger groups of people over Christmas. It is a great time to catch up on the events of the year. This day is typically centered around food. If you attempt to prepare the entire event’s food in your own kitchen you may find you have run out of space. Our family kitchen is not quite designed to properly prepare, store and reheat all that is needed to have a safe meal prepared all in one day. We typically prepare by making things ahead of time but still run into storage issues. If guests are bringing sides, this food can end up on the counter for hours and hours before it is eaten. From casseroles to pies most need to be cooled quickly to outlast the multiplication of bacteria that will follow on Christmas Day. This multiplication of bacteria will lead to a bad case of food poisoning. Food poisoning is a form of gastroenteritis due to food contaminated by bacteria or a virus that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and dehydration. It can be short term or can last for weeks. This is the last thing we need during the holidays, so here are some tips to avoid food poisoning.
Let everyone know the plan. If you have a large group of people coming from all distances, then write down a list of all the things you need to be brought. For those that have hours to drive, give them the items that are safe to stay out longer. Bread, biscuits, drinks or desserts that do not require refrigeration are a great place to start for those. For the people that have a short drive, they can get by on an insulated bag or cooler for transport of their hot or cold items.
In preparation keep your raw food separated from cooked food. When dealing with raw meat and poultry keep it away from your cooked items and raw vegetables. Don’t trim raw meat and then touch other food items without first disinfecting your hand, utensils and surfaces. Make sure to prevent any juices from your raw meat encountering other foods. If you are cooking a turkey, make sure to give your turkey plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator. Do not leave the turkey out on the counter to thaw. A regular sized turkey can take up to 4 days to thaw in a refrigerator.
Wash your vegetables thoroughly. If your vegetables are pre-washed, then wash them again. The more food is handled the greater the opportunity for bacteria to come in contact leading to sickness. Bagged salad can be a source of food poisoning if not careful. If you spot juices in the bag from broken down leaves of spinach, lettuce or other greens the risk of salmonella increases 2,400-fold. Bagged salad has given me so many stomach cramps over the years, I just avoid them altogether. When in doubt, throw it out.
Once dinner has concluded, it can be tempting to sit around and talk, kick your feet up for sports events or just catch up on the latest family drama while leaving the food out on the counter. Once the food has cooled, it is important to place leftovers in the fridge. If you have a habit of leaving leftovers out all day, the chance of food poisoning will increase. If you want your food to last longer then placing it at an appropriate temperature for leftovers is key. The holidays will be much more enjoyable if you take care of your food before, during and after your festivities!
–Aaron Workman, DC
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