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You Can Have Your Feast and Eat It Too

Food Safety for the Holiday Season

'Tis the season for gatherings with family and friends and, of course, endless food. All those roasts and casseroles, however, can be dangerous for more than just your waistline. Food preparation goes beyond pulling out old family recipes, grocery shopping, and spending hours in the kitchen. Safety should be on your checklist as well! Food safety and foodborne illness should not only be a concern while eating out at restaurants, but in the home as well. After all, nothing can ruin a happy occasion quite like a case of Salmonella.

So, what steps should the average home chef be taking to make sure their feast is safe? "The simplest and most important step you can take is washing your hands constantly during food preparation," says Matt Constantine, Director of the Kern County Public Health Services Department. "Foodborne illness is most commonly transmitted via unwashed hands, so make sure to wash your hands for 20 full seconds with warm, soapy water and dry your hands with a clean paper towel." Hand washing should take place before handling food and as often as necessary to avoid cross-contamination while preparing different dishes. This applies to utensil washing as well. One should never use the same cutting board for raw meat and vegetables. e sure to use separate dishware or wash thoroughly in between uses.

Once the food is prepared, it is important to keep that food either hot or cold, if it is a potentially hazardous food such as a protein. The Kern County Environmental Health Department states that the "danger zone" is between 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, foods that are kept at temperatures between these two extremes are at risk of growing germs that can cause foodborne illnesses. In fact, the amount of germs growing on foods in the "danger zone" can double in 15 minutes. Ten germs can grow into several million within four hours! What's worse, it can take 10 germs or 10 billion germs to cause a foodborne illness, so it's best to play it on the safe side and keep food refrigerated at 41 degrees of below when it is not being eaten.

So, what about the leftovers? Hosting holiday gatherings for large groups means there will most likely be a lot of leftovers. This might be great news for the kids, but it is important to store the food properly. "Improper cooling is a big cause of foodborne illness," says Matt Constantine. "When you are saving large amounts of food, it is important to make sure all of the food that is stored is at the correct temperature, at 41 degrees or below." Matt suggests buying an inexpensive food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food. Refrigerate food in shallow containers, increasing the surface area of the food, to speed up the cooling process.

If properly prepared, served, and stored, holiday feasting will be something to look forward to and enjoy…before that New Year's resolution diet kicks in! For more information about food safety, call the Kern County Department of Public Health Services at 868-0306 or visit our website at

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