How to host a healthy, food safe holiday season

By Mareya Ibrahim, The Fit Foodie

The holidays may be looking very different for us this year with fewer extended family and friend get-togethers, but staying safe with increased food preparation in the midst of a pandemic is critically important to your health and those around you.

Food-borne illnesses are a growing problem in the United States, with 1 in 6 Americans becoming sick from them every year.  Out of those128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. 

With just a few important practices under your belt, you’ll master clean, safe eating this month and for years to come.

My Top 7 Tips

  1. Shop with your eyes wide open. This means reading labels, becoming knowledgeable about product ingredients and knowing how meats and dairy products should be stored to avoid them going bad. Another thing to look out for: “Avoid any cans or packages that are dented, opened or leaking. Also, make sure to check expiration dates and avoid buying perishables too close to expiration,” says Ibrahim.
  • Pick your produce wisely. The most important rule is to “Never, ever, ever ‘sample’ unwashed’ produce at the store or farmers market. Often items like berries are picked and packed right in the field and are not even rinsed. They could be seething with bacteria and potential contaminants,” says Ibrahim. Produce travels an average of 1,500 miles and passes through “over 20 sets of hands from field to fork,” says Ibrahim, so try to buy produce grown closer to home, as that may decrease the risk for contamination.
  • Remember the CSCC’s of food safety from the USDA:
  • Clean food as well as everything coming into contact with food before and after use, from hands to knives to cutting boards
  • Separate uncooked meat from everything else to avoid cross-contamination, and don’t replace cooked meat onto the platter that held it raw
  • Cook meat, eggs and poultry thoroughly, using a meat thermometer to check temperature
  • Chill leftovers promptly, as bacteria grows quickly at room temperature

4) Give your fruit and veggies a real wash. Along with pesticides, many fruits and vegetables are also coated in wax to help it hold up to long journeys. Pesticides, wax and dirt should be thoroughly scrubbed or soaked off produce, which includes organic produce. Opinions differ on the best way to clean fruits and veggies, but at least do something to clean off harmful pesticides. As the founder of Eat Cleaner, a fruit and vegetable wash which also comes in a wipe and spray form, Ibrahim is a big believer in thoroughly cleaning produce. “You have to think, what else do we ‘clean’ with water alone?” she says.  Her Eat Cleaner product may be a good choice because it also extends produce shelf life and is sold as handy on-the-go wipes and granulated powder. Ibrahim advises, “Just remember these 4 simple steps: Spray, soak, rinse, dry.” Grab the full array of cleaning products at eatcleaner.com.

5) Don’t let your fowl go foul. Poultry is the number one cause of Salmonella.  Make sure to allow for 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey and defrost it in the refrigerator in a self- contained tray, covered, so it doesn’t contaminate the rest of the fridge as it begins to release liquid.  Never rinse poultry with water, as the splatter could transmit Salmonella and other pathogens. Instead, mist chicken, turkey and other poultry items with eatCleaner Seafood & Poultry Wash, a food safe wash that doesn’t need to be rinsed.  Rewash hands after touching uncooked meat and, Ibrahim says, “Keep uncooked poultry, meat, and seafood wrapped in plastic bags or in a container in the fridge to prevent leakage of juices and liquids.” When it comes to cooking time, Know that you can’t judge a bird by its color.  Cook turkey to an internal temperature of at least 165F, measuring with a meat thermometer at the thickest point of the breast, without touching the bone.  The thigh should also be measured.

6) Select your seafood safely. “Avoid purchasing pre-cooked seafood if they are in a case next to uncooked seafood. The potential for cross contamination is too high. If you must, ask your handler to put on a fresh pair of gloves,” says Ibrahim. Trust your nose, and reject any seafood that smells suspicious. To reduce odor, mist fish, shrimp and other shellfish items with eatCleaner Seafood & Poultry Wash, which is also effective in removing unwanted residue. Also, choose wild caught seafood over farm raised.  A big surge of the available seafood is being raised in closed quarters that can spread disease and bacteria more rampantly than line caught counterparts. GMO salmon is also being distributed in some markets, so always feel comfortable asking ‘where is your salmon from?’ when purchasing at a store or ordering at a restaurant.

7) Chill out. Heat can become a breeding ground for bacteria where they can grow exponentially in just minutes.When it comes to perishables like meat, dairy and fresh fruit + veggies. If you’re not taking a direct route home from the grocery, tote your own insulated grocery bags or coolers to help keep your bundles from going bad.  If you’re leaving food out, take care to not leave it out too long.  Perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours and if the temperature is above 90°F, one hour is the max. Don’t let food horror stories make you shun the supermarket. Knowing correct selection and handling tips goes a long way in preventing food borne illnesses, so you can be confident that you’re protecting your family’s plate.

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