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Food safety tips for the holidays

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

For chef Brandon Collins, this holiday season is as busy as ever.

A head chef at Redz Restaurant, in McDonough, Collins says he has been busy preparing food for the larger crowds that choose to eat out during the holidays.

But many still choose to host and attend holiday parties with friends and family. And those hosts should know, as Collins does, how to prepare and keep food that won't potentially make their guests sick.

Collins says that during holiday parties, people often make the mistake of leaving food out too long. "They should make sure that they [don't] have all their food within the temperature danger zone," he said.

The temperature danger zone is the temperature between 41degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures within this zone are unsafe, because the luke-warmness aids in bacterial growth.

"[Even for] restaurateurs, it's very difficult to maintain sanitary standards," Collins said.

According to Henry County Environmental Health Specialist Tiffany Harris, common food-safety violations for restaurants involve simple hand-washing and food-temperature control.

"The average consumer says, 'Well it's warm, so it's fine,'" Harris said.

It is a common mistake even people make at home in handling and serving food. But not maintaining food at regulated temperatures can cause health risks, she said.

District 4 Public Health officials advise that people thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds before, and after, handling raw products.

Often, people unknowingly cross contaminate their ready-to-eat food with food that has already been prepared, simply because they are not careful to clean their food preparation surfaces.

"People sometimes don't take care of their cutting surfaces during the holidays," Collins said. Cutting boards and food preparation surfaces should be cleaned thoroughly after each use. And people should be mindful of who else might be working in the kitchen, he said.

District 4 Public Health officials offer these tips on food preparation to prevent food contamination:

Clean Up

· Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds before and after handling raw products.

· Cutting boards should be run through the dishwasher - or washed with soap and hot water - after each use.

Separate to Combat Cross-Contamination

· Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be stored on a plate or tray in the refrigerator, so raw juices don't drip onto other foods.

· Separate cutting boards should be used for fresh produce and raw meat.

· Cooked food should never be placed on a plate that previously held raw meat unless the plate has been washed with hot soapy water.

· Dirty sponges, dishcloths, and towels can spread bacteria. Using paper towels or freshly-cleaned sponges or clothes can help stop the spread of bacteria on surface.

Cook Safely

· Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature.

· Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm or reach 160-degrees Fahrenheit on a food thermometer. Do not use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.

· Cook fish until it's opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

· When microwaving, make sure there are no cold spots in food, where bacteria can survive. For best results, cover, stir, and rotate food for even cooking.

· Re-heat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing them to a boil. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165-degrees Fahrenheit.

Chill Completely

· Make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40-degrees Fahrenheit or below and the freezer zero-degrees or below by using an appliance thermometer.

· Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs and other perishables as soon as you get them home from the store. And do not leave prepared foods and leftovers out for more than two hours.

· Never defrost food at room temperature. Use the refrigerator. You can also thaw foods in airtight packaging in cold water (but change the water every 30 minutes, so the food continues to thaw in cold water). Or thaw food in the microwave, if you'll be cooking the food immediately.

· Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Don't stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to keep food safe.

For more food safety tips for this holiday season, visit the The U. S. Food and Drug Administration at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fsholida.html.