TAVARES – It’s that timeless holiday tradition: the enormous meal cooked for the entire family, for relatives you haven’t seen all years, for whoever they bring along, old and new faces alike. When it comes to a family gathering for the holidays, the festively decorated dinner table awaits everyone.
Good news for the family. Good news for the ones who love to cook.
Not so good news — sometimes, anyway — for area hospitals, which can get awfully busy … assuming the chefs in the family don’t take some simple precautions before they start the meal.
Preparing a meal can be fun and creative. But it can also be risky if people don’t take steps to ensure their food is safely stored before they begin their cooking. With that in mind, the Lake County Health Department is issuing some helpful advice to county residents about the importance of safe food preparation and storage, and how it can prevent the possibility of foodborne illnesses ruining that otherwise cheerful family meal.
Some of their advice sounds so simple it almost doesn’t seem necessary to point out. Just the same, the Lake County Health Department’s environmental health director, Paul Butler, said it all begins with that sage advice from your mother: clean those hands.
“Lake County residents should wash their hands and counter tops thoroughly before and after preparing foods to help eliminate bacteria,” Butler said. “Foods should be cooked at the appropriate temperature and leftovers should be stored properly.”
So what needs to be done to keep that generous meal from ruining the entire day for your guests, not to mention their appetites and otherwise good health? The agency’s recommendations for those preparing the meal in the kitchen include:
- Properly washing your hands — and don’t forget those fingernails — before and after handling any food.
- Storing food properly, with adequate refrigeration temperatures or hot holding temperatures. A safe refrigeration temperature is less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, while a safe hot holding temperature is greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Never letting hot or cold foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Ensuring you’ve taken steps to have a safe cooling of foods, by getting meals to less than 41 degrees Fahrenheit within a four-hour time period.
- Avoiding cross contamination — that includes from uncooked meat or salad ingredients, for example.
- Proper cleaning and sanitizing of eating and cooking utensils, including work areas in the kitchen and any equipment used to prepare the foods.
- Making sure your food or equipment isn’t someplace where flies, roaches and other insects can get to it first, before your guests.
- Serving food on clean plates, which means not letting juices from raw meat, poultry and seafood come in contact with cooked food.
- Replacing serving plates often, and trying to avoid putting fresh food on serving plates that have been sitting out at room temperature for a while.
- Storing foods in shallow containers to refrigerate or freeze them.
Taking these simple steps, the Lake County DOH says, means you’re not likely to be driving a relative to the emergency room an hour after the meal is over.
For more information about food safety, visit www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/food/.
To report a food or waterborne illness complaint, visit www.lakechd.com and click on the Foodborne Illness Complaint Form.
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