Food is one of the most important and memorable parts of many holiday traditions. The smell of a favorite dish can instantly bring back cherished childhood memories. While every cook wants to create a memorable meal, we all want it to evoke these kinds of memories- the good, happy, cherished kind. This is why food safety is so important this time of year. The last thing anyone wants to serve at their holiday table is a big helping of food poisoning. While it is possible to be exposed to a food-borne illness at any point during the year, the types of events and gatherings that are common this time of year increase the risk of exposure.
Make sure every meal you serve this holiday season is both delicious and safe by following these simple safety tips.
1. Plan Ahead
While it is great to have an overall plan for shopping, prepping, and cooking, you need specific food safety details in that plan when you are making and serving large meals. This part of your plan needs to outline which foods need to be kept at certain temperatures to ensure they remain safe to eat and an outline of how you will maintain the proper temperature. By planning ahead you can feel confident that you have enough ice on hand and/or room in the oven to following food safety guidelines.
2. Take Temperatures
Make sure you understand what temperature each item on your menu needs to be cooked to in order to be safe and have the right kind of thermometer on hand to check the temperature.
3. Clear the Table
While guests and family members may linger around the dinner table sharing stories and reminiscing, it is not okay for leftovers to linger with them. Any leftover food needs to be refrigerated within 2 hours of being prepared. Once everyone is done eating, pack the leftovers away so that they will be safe to eat on another day.
4. Be Obsessive about Washing Your Hands
Keeping your hands clean is important all the time, but when you are making a big meal for a large group or are pressed for time and moving quickly, there is no such thing as washing your hands too often. Making sure your hands are clean is one of the best ways to ensure everything you serve is safe.
5. Practice Segregation
In most circumstances, segregation is a bad thing but not in the kitchen. Designate one cutting board and prep area as meat only and one cutting board and prep area as produce only. This will significantly decrease the chances that you will inadvertently cause cross-contamination.
6. Avoid Having Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
Especially if any of them show outward signs of illness. Don’t forget that along with the holidays, this time of year also brings cold and flu season, which means you may have guests that are acting as “carrier pigeons” for dangerous germs. Limiting the number of people that have contact with the food before it is served helps decrease the chances that someone who is ill will spread that illness to others through the food.