Christmas is a time when the family gathers and our Christmas meals are an important part of the fun. But we need to keep in mind that some people, including young kids, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to food poisoning. This time of year you’ll likely be preparing food for a mix of people, and some round the table may fall in these groups meaning extra care is needed at this special time.
So here’s our top five tips to guard against food poisoning at home
1. Always, always wash your hands
Most people know to wash their hands after handling raw meat and poultry but very few do so before they start to handle any food and after cracking raw eggs or handling raw sea food. In fact you should wash your hands every time before you start to cook and every time after you handle any raw foods.
2. Don’t leave food out
Cooked food should be eaten or put in the fridge. You don’t have to wait for it to cool down (unless you’re putting a LOT in the fridge). If you want to leave it out then try not to leave it for more than an hour and definitely not more than 2 hours. 5 to 60 degrees Celsius (40-140 Fahrenheit) is the ideal temperature for a whole range of bugs to thrive. Room temperature falls right in the middle of that range. And guess what’s below and above that range, yes, the fridge and the oven. So food, especially cooked food, should be in the oven, your tummy or the fridge.
3. Reheat leftovers properly
We all know not to reheat cooked rice. Well that’s not quite how it is. It’s not that the rice has already been cooked. It’s that cooked rice is often left out for a few hours, even overnight, and then reheated. The spores from the bacteria in rice aren’t killed by cooking and if left at room temperature have time to grow into bacteria and multiply to dangerous levels. So leftover rice has to go in the fridge within two hours, and be reheated to steaming hot throughout to kill any new bacterial growth. The same applies to all leftovers, if they’ve been out for more than two hours the bin is the best place for them, and if they went in the fridge in time then reheat thoroughly and as quickly as possible (the longer the food is at 40-140 Fahrenheit the more nasties will grow.
And a fridge only slows down the bacteria so experts advise not to keep any leftovers in the fridge for more than 3 to 4 days.
4. Raw poultry – handle with care!
More than half a million food poisoning cases are caused each year by Campylobacter, a bug that simply loves raw chicken and other poultry. So wash your hands after you handle raw poultry, don’t contaminate any surfaces (use a colour coded mat and wash the mat afterwards) and cook any poultry thoroughly.
And just because it’s Christmas we’ve thrown in another two for free!
5. Don’t mess with minced meat
When meat is minced the blades pick up bacteria from the surface, where the heat of the oven will kill it, and push it deep into the body of the meat, where the full heat from cooking is much less likely to reach and kill it. It’s best to avoid minced meat unless you know it’s been thoroughly cooked right through. You do not want to be eating a burger that’s pink in the middle.
6. Always wash fruit and veg
We tend to think of meat and seafood as the main causes of food poisoning but actually a prestigious survey in America in 2014 found that produce caused 46% of all foodborne illness outbreaks, with leafy green vegetables being the most common culprit. Unwashed fruit and veg can have bacteria on the surface but also can have been handled by someone in the food chain who didn’t wash their hands after handling raw chicken or have been put on a surface used for raw fish or meat. It’s not just a question of washing fruit such as apples – any fruit with a skin, such as melon or cucumber will have bacteria on, so when cutting it with a with knife the bacteria can be pushed down into the flesh of the fruit.
7. Don’t wash raw chicken!
Yes, that’s not a mistake, don’t wash raw chicken. It doesn’t get rid of the bacteria and risks splashing it around the kitchen, landing on chopping boards, hands and raw fruit, where it can do far more harm than on the chicken where proper cooking will kill it all.