Today’s post is by Jackie Stevenson, DTR at Bordeaux Nutrition®, LLC. Check out her personal blog at www.betterlivenatural.com.
The holidays are a great time for getting together with friends and family. You can share gifts, laughs, food, and, if you’re not careful, food borne illnesses. Although this isn’t the most festive holiday topics, it is important to talk about. Here are three food safety guidelines to follow to reduce your risk of catching a bug this season.
- Avoid Cross Contamination: This starts as soon as you put food items in your cart at the grocery store. If you think that package of chicken does not have chicken juice on the outside, you’re crazy. Keep meats and foods that are meant to be eaten raw (fruits and veggies) separate. Contamination can happen anytime between putting them together in your shopping cart, to bagging, and storage in your refrigerator. It doesn’t end there. Make sure to cut and process your raw meats separately and disinfect your workspace before cutting raw veggies.
- Hold Temperatures Steady: Holidays are synonymous with buffet style feasts. Most likely, the food will sit out too long while everyone grazes. Besides the fact that most of your guests will overeat, your foods run the risk of hitting the ‘danger zone’ of temperatures, 40°F-140°F. Cold foods need to remain at or below 40°F, while hot foods need to stay above 140°. This can be accomplished by using heaters and ice baths on the table, and by cooling or reheating the foods in the kitchen as necessary. Remaining vigilant of temperature is an extra step, but it’s better than making your guests sick. Have a little fun and pretend you’re doing a science experiment. Get rid of any food that was kept at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Did You Double-Dip That Chip? Remember that Seinfeld episode where George got yelled at for double dipping? It made for great comedy, but the truth is that double dipping can spread harmful germs very quickly. At the end of the party, your buffet could become as colonized as a petri dish. To avoid this, allow your guests to scoop from the big bowl onto individual plates using a serving spoon. It’s also good to leave out toothpicks for small appetizers. Do whatever you can to deter people from touching food with their hands or, heaven forbid, double dipping.
In case you’re not familiar with this episode, you should watch the clip here.
What happens if you don’t follow good food safety practices?
This part is intended to scare a little sense into you by going over a few of our favorite food borne illnesses!
Staphylococcus aureus, or a staph infection, is one of the most common food borne illnesses. Staph bacteria is almost always found on human skin. It is easily transferred by touching the skin, then touching food. Think wiping your mouth, grabbing an appetizer, then multiply that times twenty guests. Disgusting. And so are the symptoms of a staph infection. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are most common, though some cases are more severe. Symptoms can occur in as little as 30 minutes, so I hope you have an exit strategy. Luckily, symptoms usually disappear within a day. Learn more here.
Clostridium perfringens, or the ‘cafeteria germ’, is common when foods are left out for long periods of time, like in a cafeteria. Symptoms include diarrhea and intense stomach cramps and gas. Symptoms occur 6 to 24 hours after eating, so at least you’ll have time to get home. Learn more here.
Shigella, or dysentery is a nasty little bug that lives in feces (is this festive or what?). This bacteria is easily spread by touching food after failing to properly wash hands. You can thank your friends if you develop symptoms like watery or bloody diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. This one might keep you on the couch for a week. Learn more here.
We apologize if you are thoroughly disgusted by the time you’ve reached the end of this post, but food borne illness is serious and we don’t want anyone’s holiday ruined by a nasty stomach bug. We hope our scare tactics haven’t scared you away from your holiday festivities, but instead made you aware of how to keep yourself, your friends, and your family safe this holiday season.