Safe Holiday Eating

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - November 25, 2009
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Happy Thanksgiving! As you gather with your friends and family this week for good times and good food, remember to practice safe food preparation and handling.

I know one thing I’m guilty of is leaving food out for too long. It’s just easier, especially when guests show up at all different times. And who wants to clean up right after a meal?

After all that turkey and stuffing, you just want to rest and mingle, but by then a few hours have passed and all those yummy dishes are no longer safe to eat. That’s right - it’s all going to waste.

“The rule is no more than two hours for just about everything, but primarily starchy-based foods such as noodles, rice and potatoes, and meat dishes,” says Linda Powley, a clinical nutritionist for Kaiser Permanente. “Two hours max because foodborne illness can be derived from bacteria growing in the temperatures of 40 to 140 degrees. It’s the perfect temperature for bacteria to multiply.”

Eating food that is not properly stored, prepared, cooked, served or handled can make you sick. Specifically, foods that are contaminated by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and molds can cause foodborne illness - also known as food poisoning.

“Food poisoning is very serious, especially for the elderly and the young,” says Powley. “A lot of people think they have the 24-hour flu when they’ve had food poisoning.”

According to Powley, two common types of food poisoning are salmonella and staphylococcus.

Salmonella food poisoning produces an intestinal infection and causes diarrhea, nausea, chills, vomiting and fever within 12 to 24 hours. It’s found in high protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

Staphylococcus food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness that is fast acting and is caused by eating foods contaminated with staphylococcal aureus, a common bacterium found on skin and in noses. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and can develop within one to six hours.

Some keys to safe food handling, according to Be Safe: A Home Guide to Help Keep Food Safe published by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Cooperative Extension Service, include:

* Buy cold food last, get it home fast.
* Keep food safe - refrigerate.
* Keep everything clean.
* Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator.
* Cook foods thoroughly.
* Keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold.
* Don’t wait - refrigerate leftovers quickly.

“A common mistake people do at family gatherings is leave their food out,” says Powley. “And with potlucks, you don’t really know where everything is coming from.

“Also, it’s always best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness, however, if you choose to eat raw fish anyway, the general rule is to eat fish that has been previously frozen. But nobody is going to do that here (in Hawaii). We like it fresh.”

If there’s poke or sashimi, Powley suggests keeping it covered and on ice. Also, if it’s in a large container, divide it into smaller containers. And, as with the other dishes, do not leave it out for more than two hours.

As for the leftovers, Powley says to freeze leftovers that will not be eaten within two days. In the freezer, leftovers can last two to three months. Also, reheat leftovers until it’s steaming hot, especially soups, sauces and gravies.

“Unsafe food doesn’t always smell, taste or look bad,” adds Powley.

“When in doubt, throw it out.”

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