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Commentary: The real gift is food

Photo shows mother and son preparing a pie.

The holidays are a great time for friends and family to get together, but the real gift is the food. Make sure you are practicing proper food safety when preparing your holiday feasts. (courtesy photo)

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All holidays have their gifts and get-togethers with family and friends. But there is something missing out of those wonderful things…food! We eat a large amount of food at every family or friends gathering during the holidays.

Here are a few tips to ensure that you stay healthy and that your food is safe for the holidays!

Wash your hands!

Everybody washes their hands. However, when cooking for large gatherings, washing your hands is more important than ever. You should wash your hands after touching your face, handling raw meat, using the restroom, or petting your puppy that’s wearing a holiday sweater. Wash for a total of 20 seconds, or sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice. This will reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses like salmonella and norovirus, and cross contamination, where bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effect.

Keep foods separated!

Always store raw foods below ready-to-eat foods in the refrigerator. Not doing so may risk raw foods falling onto the food you and your guests are about to eat. Also, use separate utensils for each dish and prepare food on separate areas of the counter.

Clean everything!

If it is going to touch the food in any way: clean it! If you are not sure if it is clean or was cleaned: clean it! Sorry germophobes, but bacteria grows extremely fast everywhere. It is best to keep everything as clean as possible when preparing food for that reason. Again, washing your hands and keeping everything clean is the best way to prevent foodborne illness.

Get a thermometer!

While we know bacteria grows extremely fast, there are ways to suppress their growth. Cold foods should be kept below 41°F and hot foods should be kept above 135°F. The “Danger Zone” is between these two temperatures where the bacterial growth rate is high. When in doubt, throw it out! Food cannot be in the “Danger Zone” for more than 4 hours. The best way to monitor these temperatures is by getting a thermometer. These can usually be found for less than $15.

Know your food allergies!

Food allergies are very common with more than 3 million new cases per year in the U.S. It’s recommended to create a “business card” list of all your known food allergies. This list can be given to your server when you’re out to eat and they can give it to the kitchen so they know all your food allergies. Pretty safe, right?  

Let’s be honest, whenever we are celebrating the holidays, the real gift is the food! With the basics of food safety at hand, everyone can have a happy holiday season!