Christmas feasts - food safety tips for your spread
There are a few reasons why the Christmas season can mean a greater risk of food poisoning:
- the average home kitchen is not designed for cooking for a lot of people
- guests often bring food to share, which means food can be out of the fridge for several hours, enough time for bacteria to multiply
- many people start preparing food well ahead of an event
For some non-perishable items, such as a Christmas cake, that’s fine. But other foods, such as casseroles or desserts, need to be carefully prepared and then chilled or frozen quickly.
To keep you, your family and your guests safe, here's a few tips:
Home fridges are not very large and an overcrowded fridge or freezer does not allow the cold air to circulate freely around the food to keep them adequately frozen or chilled. When the fridge contains a large load of food, it has to work overtime to cope and, particularly if the weather is hot, the temperature inside will rise.
You should have a fridge thermometer inside the fridge so you can check that your fridge is operating at the correct temperature (at or under 5 °C). At these temperatures food poisoning bacteria will multiply very slowly and the food will remain safe for two or three days. Check your fridge temperature regularly, after any newly refrigerated food has had a chance to cool, and adjust the controls to lower the temperature if necessary.
Make sure that raw meat and poultry can’t contaminate ready to eat food. Raw food can contain food poisoning bacteria. This is not a problem if the food is cooked before it is eaten. However, if these bacteria get onto ready to eat food, such as salads, desserts or foods that have already been cooked, they can cause food poisoning.
Preparing the food
Because of the risks in catering for a large group, you need to be even more careful than usual about preparing food to prevent any bacteria being introduced by cross contamination.
Wash your hands before you start preparing and between preparing raw and ready to eat foods – learn about Handwashing. Wash chopping boards, knives and anything else which will come into contact with the food between preparing raw and ready to eat foods.
Don’t prepare food if you have vomiting or diarrhoea (gastroenteritis) – you’ll be sure to pass it on to your family and friends.
Cook poultry, minced meats, sausages, tenderised meats and other pre-prepared meats until they reach 75°C in the centre using a meat thermometer. No pink should be visible. Steaks and other solid pieces of meat can be cooked to your preference eg rare or medium rare – if you use a meat thermometer it will help you cook the perfect piece of meat.
It’s all right to leave cooked meat to remain warm on a corner of the BBQ or covered on a plate for late arrivals. Just ensure it is protected from flies and, as with cold perishables, avoid leaving it around for more than four hours, (or two hours if there are leftovers to be put into the fridge).
Do not allow cooked meals to cool on the bench. As soon as steam stops rising, refrigerate or freeze in a leak-proof container.
BBQs at home
Keep your meat in the fridge until you are ready to put it on the BBQ and keep all ready to eat food covered until you are ready to eat it. This will protect it from contamination by flies.
Keep salads, patés, spreads, dips and other perishable products in the fridge until needed. It may seem like a great idea to leave food out so that guests can nibble throughout the whole day, but unfortunately bacteria will also have a feast. It’s better to divide these higher risk perishable foods into small amounts and replenish with fresh portions as required.
It is even more important than indoor events that you don’t mix fresh top-ups with ones that have been outside for some time where they may also have been enjoyed by flies. Low risk foods, such as nuts, crisps, crackers can be topped up.