Don’t Let Food Poisoning Ruin Your Holiday Parties

Some simple do’s and don’ts on safely handling, preparing and serving our holiday foods will assure hosts and hostesses that our guests only remember their enjoyable hours spent at our beautiful party, rather than anything which occurred in the hours afterwards.

As we enter the Christmas season, the main activity of our holiday parties often revolve around an elaborate dinner table. As beautiful as our tables are, they are also the cause for an increase in food poisoning cases doctors see during this time of year.

While almost any food can become contaminated if handled improperly, certain foods are more prone to becoming spoiled. Foods which are rich in protein, such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood, provide a favorite breeding ground for bacteria.

Other foods which may be easily spoiled are starchy, egg-rich foods and cream-based foods such as potato and pasta salads, cream-based soups and custard or cream pies.

By practicing safe food preparation and storage, we can protect our friends and family from the misery of suffering from food poisoning.

Experts note that the first rule of preventing food spoilage is that we properly store foods in our refrigerator and freezer. Poultry and meat may be stored in a refrigerator for up to two days. However, if we are not planning on their being cooked until more than two days after purchasing them, wrap them tightly and place them in your freezer.

We must get into the habit of storing leftovers in airtight containers, keeping eggs in the refrigerator, and becoming extra vigilant to assure seafood is stored in the refrigerator or freezer until it is prepared for serving.

It is worth noting that food will not spoil in our refrigerator as long as the temperature remains below 40 degree F and the freezer should register zero degrees F. Some people occasionally use a refrigerator thermometer to check that these temperatures are registering correctly.

Remember, an easy source for knowing which foods need to be refrigerated is to read the labels on packaging. Items such as mayonnaise and ketchup, among others, must be refrigerated after being opened.

To reduce the risks of food poisoning while we cook, it is very important that we be able to tell when a food has been thoroughly cooked. The simplest way to do this is by inserting a thermometer into, say, a roast or turkey, and wait thirty seconds to ensure the correct temperature is recorded.

Beef, lamb and veal should be cooked to at least 145 F; pork and ground beef to 160 F; whole poultry and thighs to 180 F; poultry breasts to 170 F; and ground chicken or turkey to 165 F.

Foods we cook which contain egg products must reach an internal temperature of 160 F. Seafood should be cooked to at least 145 F. Fish which is ground or flaked should be cooked to 155 F and stuffed fish cooked to at least 165 F.

Also, we should always remember to cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm. By the way, many people avoid homemade ice cream, mayonnaise, eggnog, cookie dough and batter because they carry a higher risk of being infected with the Salmonella bacteria, while their store bought counterparts do not.

After we have removed a cooked food from the oven, remember not to leave it on a counter to cool for more than two hours. For experts note that disease-causing bacteria can begin forming when the cooling food’s temperature dips below 140 F.

Those foods which we plan to serve hot should be brought from the oven to the table as quickly as possible. Similarly, cold foods should be brought from the refrigerator to the table without delay.

Food experts recommend only thawing frozen foods inside a refrigerator for a day or two, submerged in cold water, or in a microwave oven. Additionally, foods we defrost in water or a microwave oven should be cooked immediately.

Also, never taste a food that looks or smells “off.” And food which comes from a leaking, bulging or severely damaged can or jar with a leaky lid must be immediately discarded.

Safely preparing, serving and storing foods is actually quite simple. Most people who enjoy cooking note that taking precautions to prevent food poisoning becomes second nature to them.

So follow normal rules on food safety, cook to your heart’s content, and eat a bit too much as you, your friends and family enjoy the holiday season.

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