When preparing for the holidays, the focus is often on cleaning the house, scheduling airport pick-ups and drop-offs, decorating, and purchasing gifts. For the host one of the most significant stressors can be making sure there is enough food, everyone enjoys the meal, and the food is prepared safely without the fear of someone getting sick. Foodborne illness may strike 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later. Below are some suggestions and tips to ensure the entire family has a delicious and safe meal without the fear of undesirable repercussions that might hinder the holiday spirit:Handwashing is always on trend. Washing hands for 20 seconds using soap and warm running water is one of the simplest and often forsaken ways to prevent foodborne illness. The length of time and handwashing method are crucial to removing any potentially harmful bacteria and preventing additional contamination. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2013 found 73-100% of individuals who handled raw chicken still had Campylobacter jejuni, a harmful foodborne bacterium, on their hands after washing.
Tis the season for a deep clean. Before the holiday season or even in between holidays is an excellent opportunity to clean out the refrigerator, freezer, oven, stove, and pantry and start the New Year fresh. Toss expired food or mystery leftovers, clean up any missed spills, and use hot soapy water to give kitchen appliances a good scrub down. A 2013 National Sanitation Foundation study found the area of the kitchen with the most germs was the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator. The vegetable compartment tested positive for Salmonella, Listeria, yeast, and mold. A clean area may prevent unintentional cross-contamination when preparing for the holidays. Unsure if some of the food in the refrigerator or pantry is still safe to eat? Check out the free FoodKeeper smartphone app developed by food safety experts with the USDA for reference
Invest in a refrigerator, oven, and food thermometer. Harmful bacteria thrive in temperatures between 140°F-40°F, also known as the "danger zone."
- In a study completed by the Food and Drug Administration, 43% of home refrigerators were above the recommended 40°F. A removable refrigerator/freezer thermometer verifies the freezer is at 0°F or below, and the refrigerator maintains 40°F or below. Before the holidays, adjust built-in refrigerator and freezer thermometers accordingly and avoid overpacking appliances. The cold air in the refrigerator and freezer needs to circulate to keep food cool.
- One of the best investments to ensure no one at the dinner table gets sick from the food is a food thermometer. A recent study by Tennessee and Kansas State University found less than 2/3rds of consumers own a food thermometer and less than 10 percent use it. Color, appearance, and clear juices are not safe food indicators for doneness. A food thermometer, digital or dial instant-read, is the safest way to indicate doneness and may prevent food from drying out or being overcooked. A food thermometer is also essential for hot holding food (keeping food above 130°F) and cold holding (below 40°F) in a buffet line. Remember to wash the probe of the thermometer with hot, soapy water before reinserting to another food to prevent cross-contamination. For minimum cooking temperatures visit foodsafety.gov.
- Additionally, an oven thermometer verifies the temperature set corresponds to the actual temperature inside of the oven. Consider testing the oven temperature a few days before to ensure it heats up to the correct temperatures and gives the cook time to adjust recipes as needed
Do more than warm up leftovers. Store leftovers in containers no more than 2 inches deep, and reheat all leftovers in the microwave, oven, or on the stove to 165°F. Check the temperature using a food thermometer. Do not reheat leftovers in the slow cooker.
While using gift bags might be an easy way to reduce the stress of wrapping gifts, failing to use a food thermometer or washing hands during food preparation may add an additional health-related stress. With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, tack on an extra few minutes to the twenty seconds spent washing hands to take a deep relaxing breath to help relieve stress. Have a safe, healthy and happy holiday season.
Byrd-Bredbenner, C., Berning, J., Martin-Biggers, J., & Quick, V. (2013). Food Safety in Home Kitchens: A Synthesis of the Literature.International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,10(9), 4060–4085. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10094060
Katherine M. Kosa, Sheryl C. Cates, Samantha Bradley, Edgar Chambers IV, Sandria Godwin.Consumer-Reported Handling of Raw Poultry Products at Home: Results from a National Survey.Journal of Food Protection, 2015; 78 (1): 180 DOI:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-231
National Sanitation Foundation. "Germiest Items in the Kitchen". http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/studies-surveys-infographics/germ-studies/germiest-items-kitchen. 2013
United States Department of Agriculture. Food Safety and Inspection Services. "Holiday or Party Buffets." https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/seasonal-food-safety/holiday-or-party-buffets/CT_Index/!ut/p/a1/jZDdbsIwDEafhQeI7K6A4BJFQrSMVgg2stwgb03aSCypmrABT7_CbjbEn31l-XyydUCCAGnpy5QUjLO0Oc6yv8Y59qMhxzQfRmNMstd5PuUcB4teC7zdALL4wfyVGuG9fPrAgadmxmclyJpCxYzVDkSpAiPrv1XjQWjnCuZJq7Bnmj4C85VSoV14Rf6ogf0hQFRuYwraM9ewmpo2877V-sTz5TqxhdrBCuT_vzBqO8niRXeSZjHm3XPggrhf4LqZ-vNFHJ5HEzRJ5weauYri/#4 7 August 2013.