Planning, preparation, menu for safe holiday cooking

By Johnny Jackson


One of the most important things to consider when preparing a holiday meal or dinner party, is the guest themselves, according to Lynda Dubbs.

Dubbs, the owner and chef, at Pinehurst Tea Room, Catering and Events in Stockbridge, said planning a holiday get-together starts with knowing what those, who will be attending, like to eat.

"Know who you are inviting," Dubbs said. "If you have people come and you serve them something that they won't eat, you've embarrassed yourself, and they won't have anything to eat. When you're entertaining, you have to take into account your guests."

More importantly, guests should not get food borne illnesses from whatever food is prepared.

"Keep it simple and elegant," she said. "There are a lot of people, nowadays, who don't know how to cook - they know how to order. You should pick something to cook that you know you can handle."

She said that people often cook things they have never prepared, and they mishandle the meal, wasting their time, and ingredients in the process.

Hosts should plan their meals in a way that will ensure foods are held at their proper, safe temperatures, even while the preparer is preparing other foods.

"If you're having big crowds, make sure that you can cook in different time slots," Dubbs said. "And don't be afraid to ask people to bring something. With the economy the way it is, there is no reason you shouldn't ask."

Cooking and safety

According to Georgia's District 4 Public Health Office, perceived common illnesses can actually be borne from badly prepared food.

"Millions of people get sick from dangerous bacteria in food every year," said Hayla Hall, spokeswoman for District 4 Health Services. "Many people don't link their illness to food borne bacteria. They think they have a case of the flu."

Hall said that people can become sick anytime, from 20 minutes to six weeks after eating food with some types of harmful bacteria. Infants and young children, pregnant women, and older adults are at greatest risk for food borne illness.

Food safety begins with hand-washing, she said.

Food should be separated to avoid cross-contamination, and cooked meat should be placed on a clean platter, rather than back on one that held the raw meat.

Added Dubbs: "Meat should be cooked last. Anything with protein has to be kept at the proper, high temperature."

When transporting food, it should remain at its recommended temperature. Cold food should be kept cold, and hot food should remain hot.

Cold and hot foods can be stored for short times in separate cooler containers to maintain their temperatures.

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be rinsed under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Preparers should rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water, or scrub them with a clean, vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables can be cleaned with a clean, cloth towel.

When serving food, do not use a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else, unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water.

Foods, like chicken salad and desserts in individual serving dishes, can also be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. As the ice melts, the water should be drained off, and the ice should be replaced as frequently as possible.

Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours, after the meal.

Eating Out

People often choose to avoid the common holiday cooking mishap by dining at the Pinehurst Tea Room, a staple in Stockbridge for the past 30 years.

"If you are planning to eat out at a restaurant, instead of preparing food at home, remember to choose a restaurant wisely," Hall said. "The health department inspects restaurants regularly to insure food is handled and prepared safely. We encourage everyone to check the inspection report upon entering a restaurant."

In addition to making sure restaurant food is cooked thoroughly, customers should make sure they wash their hands before, and after, they eat their meals.

Those wanting to check the score of a restaurant before deciding to eat there, may call the Henry County Environmental Health office at (770) 954-2078 for current inspection scores.


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