Sunday, December 5, 2010

Keeping Your Food Safe during the Holidays!

It’s the season to be jolly - but mostly in your life it’s the season for having friends and family over for lunches and dinners over and over again; after all, enjoying food is one of the highlights of the season!
Everyone wants to help, but having lots of cooks in the kitchen could increase food contamination and risks of food borne illnesses, especially that most of them would be standing in front of the stove for the first time. So a smart move would be learning proper food safety techniques and passing it on to your helpers especially that cooking could get a bit hectic this time of year!

To start with, Soap up!
Make sure that people, who are going to handle food, wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before, during and after food preparation. You also have to make sure that all utensils, cutting boards, appliances and countertops are well cleaned throughout meal preparations. As for cutting boards, in order to avoid any unwanted cross contamination, always have 2: one for ready to eat foods like vegetables and fruits and the other for raw meats, poultry and fish.

Take care when thawing (defrosting)
So now you have a frozen turkey (dinde), gigot (leg of a lamb) or any type of meats you wish to cook for the holidays: thawing comes first. To prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, thawing should be done using one of these steps:
  • You could use the refrigerator to thaw your meat. This requires you to put that frozen turkey in the fridge a night ahead. However, cover it well and place it in the bottom shelf so juices wouldn’t drip on other foods.
  • Thawing meats in the sink under cold running (not still) water is also safe.
  • Defrosting could be used, but in this case, you should immediately cook your meat.
  • If the meat you are about to use if of small amount, you could easily thaw it as a part of cooking.
Never thaw meats at room temperature or by putting them on the counter from day to day, in the oven or under hot water in the sink.

Cooking time
Know when your turkey is done. Use a meat thermometer to make sure that your meats have reached the safe internal temperatures within 2 hours of cooking. This way you can know if your meat is done. When using the thermometer make sure to stick it in the deepest part of the meat.
Check this table to know the right internal temperature of any meat you have in mind!
These meats should be held at their specific internal temperature for 15 seconds each.

Internal Temperature in degrees Celsius
Beef – fish – eggs
Ground beef – pork
Poultry – stuffed meats – left overs
Soups – cooked vegetables - gravies
71 - 82

As for baking cakes, bûche de noel, brownies or cookies that include raw eggs as ingredients, resist the temptation to taste raw dough or batter. Raw eggs may contain harmful bacteria that may lead to food poisoning. So it’s best to cook that cake and then taste it.

Serve it right!
Whether you decide to serve foods as a buffet or as a lovely family & friends’ dinner table, keep in mind the 2-hour thumb rule: foods can stay at room temperature for 4 hours only. After that, bacteria start to multiply fast on perishable food items. So since we all know that Lebanese festive feasts often last for more, keep some fresh food in the fridge to bring out after 2 hours.

Cool immediately!
After a big festive meal, while opening gifts or eating that delicious bûche, it’s likely to leave leftovers out on the counter for hours. But keep in mind that if this happens, bacteria will multiply and spoil those foods.  So the best idea is to divide leftovers within 4 into several small shallow (5 cm thick) containers or small airtight plastic bags.  Moreover, even though you can’t but cook large amounts of foods during the holidays, try your best not overstuff the fridge. Cold air must be able to circulate well in it so that foods can stay fresh and safe.

Dealing with leftovers
Use your refrigerated cooked turkey, meats, gigot, cooked vegetables etc. within 3 to 4 days max. As for their stuffing and gravies, they are best eaten within 1 to 2 days. When you want to reheat them, make sure to use your thermometer to reach 74 degrees Celsius. However, in any case whatsoever, keep in mind that you can only reheat food once!
As for those chilled sweet pies, cheesecakes, brownies or cakes you have left 4 to 5 days to eat them.

Now eat, drink and be merry!

You can also find this published in Moms and to Be Magazine!

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