During this holiday season, many people have chosen not to have large gatherings, as advised by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Some have opted to cook large meals for their respective group members (families and friends that would otherwise come together) and either have the food picked up or delivered.
No matter when you’re preparing food or for whom, it’s prudent to follow the five keys to safer food as delineated by the World Health Organization (WHO): Keep clean, separate raw from cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures and use safe water and raw materials.1
Keeping clean is straightforward. Anyone preparing food should have washed hands, cleaned with warm water and soap. All fruit and vegetables should be rinsed with the peel and rind on before cutting or paring.
Separating raw food from cooked food helps prevent cross-contamination, which is how bacteria can be spread to food and throughout the kitchen, leading to a food-borne illness.2
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.
Cooking thoroughly is part of food safety—when cooked food reaches a high enough internal temperature, harmful bacteria that may cause illness are killed. You may choose to use a food thermometer with large roasts or turkeys; otherwise, the more cooked the meat, the safer you tend to be.
Keeping food at safe temperatures involves the defrosting, cooking and storing of leftovers. For example, cooking in a microwave oven can leave cold spots where bacteria can survive. Microwaved food needs to be checked to make sure it’s evenly cooked throughout. Reheating food in a microwave also requires vigilance: some plastic containers release toxic chemicals upon heating and should not be used to reheat food. If thawing food in a microwave, a microwave may leave warm spots where microorganisms can grow, so cook the food promptly after defrosting.3
Always use safe water and raw materials when preparing food. When in doubt about the water, boil it.4 Raw materials are what you choose to cook. Select fresh and wholesome foods as well as foods processed for safety, such as pasteurized milk. Do not use food beyond its expiry date, and throw away smashed, swollen or oxidized cans.
There are special precautions to take when preparing food for children, since food is a common choking hazard. Many children do not chew their food well so they try to swallow it whole. Foods that are the most dangerous are round and hard. Cut food into pieces no larger than one half-inch, so if your child swallows the food whole, it won’t get stuck in the throat.5
Enjoy the holiday season, practice Active Wellness and stay safe!