I love the holidays that bring families and friends together as the calendar year winds down. I recently spent a lovely, long weekend with Michigan family and friends, enjoying four of the eight nights of Hanukkah with gifts for the children and traditional holiday foods.
In days gone by, the kitchen was the warm hub of activity as holiday meals were cooked and baked from mostly locally-acquired ingredients. It is still the place where everyone congregates for cozy conversation and a bite to eat. But I also know that kitchens can harbor germs that ruin holidays. This is especially true today, when foods may originate thousands of miles away and pass through many hands.
Although the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, foodborne illnesses affect millions in the United States annually, causing thousands to die. Accompanying the many conveniences of modern life is an unfortunate sense of complacency about food safety on the part of many consumers. Opportunities for food contamination and cross-contamination abound in home kitchens when safe food preparation and handling is not practiced.
So how do I ensure my holiday kitchen remains an outlet of fresh, delicious holiday foods and not a distribution point for salmonella? I stay vigilant about a few critical measures using the 4 C’s:
• Clean – I wash all food contact surfaces with hot, soapy water followed by disinfecting with 1/2 tablespoon chlorine bleach in 1/2 gallon of water. I do this before and after working with raw foods, especially meat and poultry. I also thoroughly wash my hands with warm, soapy water after handling any raw meat or poultry.
• Compartmentalize – I keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood.
• Cook – to kill any bacteria that might be present, I thoroughly cook meat, poultry and eggs to the appropriate temperature.
• Chill – I refrigerate leftover perishables at 40 degrees within 2 hours of cooking or serving.
Paying attention to these steps gives me the peace of mind that I know I have done what I need to do to avoid sharing a foodborne illness instead of holiday cheer.
Here’s wishing you a warm and welcoming holiday kitchen!
(Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)