Food safety tips for healthy holidays

Maintaining food safety for gatherings in the home

Serving food at parties, family dinners, Christmas lunch and other gatherings is all part of the holiday cheer, but the good times can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

A person suffering from food poisoning may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • fever and headaches.

Symptoms of food poisoning begin anywhere from a few hours to a few days after eating contaminated food or drink.

Most people recover within 1 to 2 days, but in some cases the illness can be severe, long lasting and even life threatening. 

Many holiday gatherings are multi-generational family events, where the elderly, children under 5 and pregnant women could all share a meal together.

Unfortunately, it is these people as well as those suffering from a chronic illness that are more at risk of food poisoning.  

Keep your guests safe from food poisoning by practising food safety tips for healthy holidays.

Tip 1 - Keep Food Cold

Keep potentially hazardous food cold to prevent the growth of food poisoning bacteria. Potentially hazardous food includes dairy, meats, poultry, seafood, cut fruit and vegetables; or dishes containing egg, beans, nuts, cooked rice, cooked pasta or other protein rich foods. 

  • Plan ahead to ensure that you have enough space within the fridge and freezer to keep larger amounts of potentially hazardous food cold, so it is not left out on the bench.
  • Overcrowding your fridge limits cold air circulating around food, reducing your fridge’s ability to keep food cold. Use an esky to store items that don’t need to be in the fridge, including some types of drinks, vegetables and bottled water. 
  • Completely thaw frozen foods like meats, seafood and poultry before cooking. Thaw food on a tray on the bottom shelf of the fridge, to prevent juice dripping on cooked or ready to eat foods. A turkey can take up to three days to defrost in the fridge, so you must plan ahead. 

Tip 2 - Leftovers

Leftovers let you continue enjoying the holiday meal without all the fuss of cooking and food preparation. Follow a few simple rules to make sure your leftovers are safe to eat.  

  • Leftovers can be refrigerated safely for 3 days, while frozen leftovers can be kept safely for up to 1 month. 
  • Once frozen leftovers have been defrosted, they should not be frozen again. 
  • Leftovers should only be reheated once and then thrown out if not eaten. Make sure you portion leftover so they don’t end up back in the fridge. 
  • Ensure that leftovers are steaming hot all the way through when reheated. You may need to stir or mix food when reheating, to make sure there are no cold spots for food poisoning bacteria to hide.
  • Cool food and place it into the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking, to safely keep food as leftovers. 

Tip 3 - Cooking Food

Cooking kills food poisoning bacteria naturally present in many foods. 

  • Make sure you cook food thoroughly to kill food poisoning bacteria. The colour change food undergoes during cooking is not a reliable way to judge if food is properly cooked, put a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the food to ensure the core temperature has reached 75 degrees Celsius. 

Tip 4 - Cross-Contamination 

Food poisoning bacteria can easily transfer from raw food to cooked or ready to eat foods (bacterial cross-contamination).

  • Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked or ready to eat foods. 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly between handling raw and cooked or ready to eat foods. Use soap and water; lather your hands for 20 seconds (sing happy birthday twice) before rinsing and drying. 
  • Store raw foods like meats, seafood and poultry in a tray on the bottom shelf of the fridge, to prevent juice dripping on cooked or ready to eat food.

Tip 5 - Keeping Clean 

Keep your kitchen and equipment clean.

  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counter tops) after preparing each food item and before going to the next. 
  • Rinse fruit and vegetables thoroughly under running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. 
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and counter tops. 

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