Food safety important this Christmas season

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Food safety is important for the holidays.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring because they were all at the hospital, being treated for food poisoning. OK, that's not how Clement Clarke Moore originally wrote his holiday masterpiece in 1822 but if the family's groaning table has literally turned into that for you, it maybe time to review a few basic rules when it comes to food preparation safety.

Barry MacGregor is the acting director of food protection for the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and he says that while no more cases of food-related illness are reported at this time of year, the potential is there for some serious problems. "I think we focus on Christmastime because of family get-togethers," said MacGregor. "Every get-together involves food and that sort of thing and the larger volumes. We also focus on summertime preparation for the same reason." While the reasons can get complicated, the actual advice on what to do is pretty simple.

"The message we try to promote is try to make sure things are cooked properly, make sure that you keep foods that should be refrigerated, refrigerated and cool," said MacGregor. "Make sure things are kept clean so you avoid cross-contamination and separate foods."

According to the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture Food Safety fact sheet on Partying At Home and Feeding a Crowd, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is the most important rule in food safety.

"In a buffet scenario, it's important not to leave food out for extended periods of time so try to serve food and eat it as quickly as possible," said MacGregor. "We wouldn't want to leave food out in excess of two hours. So if somebody contaminates the food with their dirty hands and if you leave it out for enough time to allow bacteria to multiply, that's where you run into problems."

One area that's a continual controversy is the thawing of the Christmas turkey or goose. Some still insist on thawing it at room temperature but MacGregor said that is a definite no-no. "We want frozen products to be frozen within a refrigerator," said MacGregor. "Or under cold running water or microwaved and cooked sort of thing.Thawing at room temperature is something that we discourage. Also, proper cooking of the turkey is something we do encourage. Use a metal-stem thermometers to insure the turkey is cooked thoroughly. We recommend to cook it quickly. It's a good idea to slice your turkey or cut it into smaller portions so it cools quicker so you can get it into the refrigerator as quickly as possibly. By cutting it up, it cools lot quicker than letting it sit in its whole state."

You also don't want to place a hot dish in the refrigerator to cool it down. 

"That will raise the temperature of the refrigerator so all the other foods in the refrigerator are then raised to an unsatisfactory temperature," said MacGregor.

"That's why we say cool it down considerably at room temperature so you're not putting it in hot." "We encourage all Nova Scotians to keep food safety in mind this holiday season and be aware of proper food-handling practices," said Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell. "Being mindful of how we handle, cook, store and transport food will help prevent food-borne illness from harming our loved ones." For more information on food safety, check out the fact sheets at http://www.novascotia.ca/agri/programs-and-services/food-protection/factsheets-publications/  

 

Fact box: Tips for safe food preparation • Hot foods must be kept at or above 60°C (140 °F) and cold foods kept at or below 4°C (40°F) when being served.

• Food should not remain in the temperature Danger Zone, between 4°C and 60°C (40°F – 140°F), for longer than two hours. If the food is to be left out for more than two hours, or the room in which it is being served becomes very warm, the food can be kept hot by using crock pots or warming trays or kept cold by using ice or ice-packs around the dish.

• Label the sauces and dressings in order to discourage tasting. • Provide tongs and long-handled ladles to prevent guests from touching food with their hands or dirty utensils. 

• Do not leave perishable finger foods like soft cheeses, dips or spreads at room temperature for too long. 

• Divide into small portions and replenish as required.  Source: Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture

Organizations: Department of Agriculture, Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture Food Safety

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Cape Breton

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