Health district addresses food safety for the holidays

The holidays around the end of the calendar year are a time for all of us to celebrate the successful completion of all our efforts over the past twelve months, and for most, a religious experience. This is the time when we look forward to longer days and warmer times. We use this time to “catch our collective breath” before plunging back into the stream of work, school and other activities. We are renewed.

These shorter days and longer evenings are spent with family and friends, generally accompanied by gatherings at which we consume prodigious amounts of food (and put on weight) before going back to diets and exercise to – hopefully – recover from our celebratory excesses. While we are buying, preparing, storing and eating all these wonderful Holiday foods, we need to pay heed to staying healthy by protecting the foods from spoilage and by preventing food-borne illnesses that can ruin our parties and holidays.

There are some basic things to look out for when dealing with foods over the coming season:

Purchase only wholesome, unspoiled foods. Look for fresh vegetables, properly prepared and refrigerated raw meats, fishes, dairy products and other foods that need to be kept cold or served hot.

Store raw foods under refrigeration, below 45 degrees F. until prepared. Vegetables and fruits should be washed or rinsed before preparing them.

When preparing foods, raw meats, fish and other types of potentially hazardous foods should be cut and handled carefully, so as not to contaminate them with dirty knives, forks, cutting boards and the like. Wash and sanitize knives and other implements, and cutting boards, before re-using or storing away. Try not to handle raw foods with bare hands, if possible.

Cook or prepare foods on a schedule that allows you to serve them as soon as ready – piping hot or nice and cold. Don’t let cooked food sit around too long before being eaten.

After a meal, package and refrigerate leftovers. Don’t let them sit around on countertops. Large pieces of meats, such as turkey, ham, roasts and the like should be sliced and placed in shallow containers to quickly cool in the refrigerator.

When re-serving foods (this is in the home only) re-heat it to a high temperature (165 degrees F. is good) before putting it out. Restaurants are not allowed to re-serve food that has been put out before customers.

If not sure about the safety of food, it’s probably best to discard it.

There are plenty of hints and recommendations to be found concerning how to prepare, serve and store food safely during the Holiday Season on the US FDA website: www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/buystoreservesafefood/ucm188807.htm or the Connecticut Department of Public Health website: http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?Q=557176&A=4575

Have a happy and safe holiday from all of us at Bristol-Burlington Health District.

Charles I. Motes, Jr., M.S., M.P.H., R.S.

Director of Health

Bristol-Burlington Health District