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Holiday Food Safety

Holiday Food Safety
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Forget Spring Cleaning. Around my house, the holidays mean it is time to scrub surfaces that haven’t seen more than a dust cloth in months. Particularly, I disassemble the refrigerator, giving every drawer and shelf a bath with soap and hot water (even those hard-to-clean drawers) and my counters/faucets and microwave get disinfected within an inch of their lives. Every sponge and scrubber gets pitched and replaced, disposal and drains get a liberal dosing of lemon juice and baking soda and, for one brief shining moment, you can eat off my kitchen floor.

I am not a germaphobe (if you saw my kitchen usually, you might feel compelled to don a surgical mask) but with so many parties, dinners, meals for guests and general holiday chaos (spilled eggnog and leftover turkey come to mind), I figure it is better to be safe than sorry. I don’t want anyone getting sick at my house.

Grocery shopping has to be done smartly to avoid any risk of food poisoning: The first step is to make sure the food you bring home is safe.

Here are some other tips and hints to help keep everyone healthy while feasting at your house:

Take along some necessities while food shopping: Make use of the sanitizing wipes given out by most stores to wipe down the handle of the cart you’ll be using. Also, a small bottle of hand sanitizer should go with you wherever you go. Use it before availing yourself of those yummy little samples that are handed out at your local big box store or grocery. Also take along clean, reusable shopping bags and a cooler if you plan to be out for more than two hours. Flat ice packs, like these online, are a lot less messy than bags of ice. Keep them in your freezer, ready to go for any food- stocking runs.

Shop in order: This might sound like a no-brainer, but, if your grocery is like mine, they move things all over during the holidays to “help” shoppers remember to buy things. What this means to me is many trips back and forth trying to find where they hid my favorites, so be careful. Get all your boxed goods and cans first, then your freezer and refigerator items. Perishables like dairy and meat products should be refrigerated within two hours and with the lines at the stores during the season, this deadline could prove to be a problem.

Check all packages carefully: More people shopping means more people handing everything in the store. Check every package carefully—not only the “sell-by date” (though that’s important), but look for any tears, holes or openings as well. Some other things to look for include:

  • Look for bruises, mold and damage on any produce.
  • Don’t buy cans that are rusty, bulging or dented.
  • Milk cartons should be cold when you touch them.
  • Pre-packaged meat and seafood should be tightly sealed, free from dents or tears and cold to the touch. Place raw meats, seafood and poultry in plastic bags before putting them in your cart, so juices don’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods.

While checking out: Bag refrigerated and frozen foods together to help both stay cold, Bag raw meat, seafood and poultry separately from ready-to eat foods so they don’t come in contact with raw meat juices. Keep that cooler in your car and put the perishables in as soon as possible (in case you hit holiday traffic on the way home.)

About that cooler: Keep it clean with mild detergent and water and rinse thoroughly. Dry completely between uses. Make sure the drain plug is open when not in use and if it smells funky anyway, use a little vanilla extract on a paper towel to freshen it up.

When you get home: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Clean all counters, cutting boards, containers and utensils with hot soapy water after every use to keep bacteria from spreading. Put your sponges in the microwave for 20 seconds on high to disinfect (but change them often). Wash all produce (even organic) under running tap water, but not the meat, poultry or eggs.

Here’s wishing you a happy healthy holiday season.


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