In between preparing for Christmas Day guests, purchasing and wrapping all the presents, ordering the seafood and congratulating yourself for making it through another (hectic) year, safe food preparation practices tend to get a little overlooked at this time of year.
They might not be as fun to reminisce about as your favourite Love Actually scenes, but when you’re feeding the whole family, it’s important to handle food correctly and store those tasty leftovers the right way to avoid food poisoning.
We’ve rounded up seven bad kitchen habits (we’re all sometimes guilty of having) that you need to stop stat to ensure you and your family enjoy the festive season, illness-free.
1. An overloaded and disorganised fridge
Come Christmas Day, the fridge quickly becomes overstocked with fresh produce, defrost
ing meats, cold drinks and cakes. With so many things needing to be chilled, it’s easy to cram shelves with products from different food groups — talk about cross contamination waiting to happen!
This festive season, group the contents of your fridge into separate drawers and shelves. Remember: Store raw meat on a covered plate at the bottom of the fridge so that juices don’t drip onto or touch other foods in your cool cupboard. If you’re fridge is still looking a little cramped, ice your festive beverages in an esky, leaving plenty of room for seafood and other perishables in the fridge. Your stomach – 1; Salmonella – 0.
2. Washing your turkey before cooking
As tempting as it is to rid a thawed turkey of excess juices, washing poultry actually increases the spread of campylobacter (a bacteria associated with white meat that cause gastro). The water splashback from washing your turkey can cause the bacteria to spread across the kitchen, increasing the likelihood of it infecting other foods.
Still in doubt? Remember: Cooking your turkey thoroughly will kill all harmful bacteria, so there’s no need to actually wash it.
3. No pest control method
As the saying goes; where there is one, there are many, and that’s certainly true ab
out pests. Unfortunately summer’s weather conditions — combined with tropical fruits and an abundance of festive sweet treats — only makes the issue worse, often causing an influx of creepy-crawlies in the kitchen.
In the lead up to any parties or lunches you’re hosting, work on your pest control in the kitchen. Rather than using chemical ridden pest-control sprays to keep your kitchen bug-free, take a more proactive approach to food storage. Keep room-temperature foods in air-tight containers and use glass lidded serving dishes. Both prove great physical methods to keep creepy-crawlies out and your food safe.
4. Using the same chopping board for everything
Your chopping board is probably cleaned more regularly than any other utensils, but it can still harbour more germs than a toilet seat. (Eww, we know.) The reason: You’re most likely using it to cut anything from fruit and vegetables to meat and dairy products.
Tackle the Christmas food prep safely and invest in multiple chopping boards, each allocated to a different food group. By using separate boards for each type of food, you can help prevent cross contamination, which is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. After use, don’t forget to sanitise each one by washing in hot, soapy water and leaving to air dry.
5. If it looks and smells alright, you can eat it
Leftovers are one of the best parts of Christmas holidays, but how can you tell what’s
safe to consume and what’s a no-go zone?
If you’re a big believer in the ‘if it looks and smells alright, it’ll be fine to eat’ test, we’ve got some bad news: You can’t always tell if something is safe to eat by judging its look, smell or even taste. Go by this rule instead: Refrigerate leftovers immediately after a meal and use within 2-3 days. Food out of the fridge for more than 4 hours should be thrown out. This rule especially applies at Christmas, when temperatures are soaring. As sad as it may be to part with some leftover Christmas lunch, nothing is more painful (or unwanted) than a bout of food poisoning so it’s best to avoid potentially bacteria-ridden food at all costs.
6. Using one pair of tongs for the barbecue
It wouldn’t be a true Australian Christmas without a barbecue — it’s one of the easiest ways to cook up meat and fish for festive events, and is always a relatively stress-free way to entertain. However, something we’re all guilty of is not using separate utensils to flip and cook meat.
It might seem like you’re just creating more washing up, but it’s really important to use
separate tools for raw meat or to clean your tongs in between switching from raw foods to veggies. It’s a simple step that will save your family from sickness this holiday season.
7. Thawing food on the counter
If you’re super organised for Christmas, you’ve probably already mentally prepared all the pre-made leftover meals you’re going to store in the freezer to ease you into the new year. But don’t forget the most important part: be diligent in your thawing practices too.
Despite popular opinion, the kitchen bench isn’t the best place to thaw out frozen foods — the room temperature can speed up bacteria growth, posing a high risk of food poisoning — so defrost frozen foods in the fridge or microwave instead.