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Eat, Drink'and Stay Merry

Eat, Drink'and Stay Merry


Each year more than 75 million Americans experience an unwelcome addition to their meals: food-borne illness. This holiday season'whether you spend the time at home, with friends or family, or at a restaurant'make your experience as wonderful as possible by avoiding food-related illness. And if you are a host, scrupulously follow food-safety guidelines to make sure the memories of your meal are good ones. The number 1 priority when dealing with food is cleanliness. Even if you are a guest'but especially if you are one of the cooks'make sure that you wash your hands well and often. This does not mean quickly running the tips of your fingers under water and dabbing them dry on a towel that has been in heavy use for the past few days. It means lathering up and rubbing your hands briskly together. A fingernail brush can reach bacteria that may be hiding under the nails. Then completely rinse and dry your hands on a clean cloth or paper towel. Next, focus on your cooking utensils. Make sure they are clean and are not used in a way that cross-contaminates foods, such as moving bacteria from raw to cooked meats. How you handle the food is important too. If you are preparing raw meats, they should have their own assigned cutting board, which should be washed and sanitized with a bleach solution or in a dishwasher that uses very hot water. If you are thawing meats, do it on the bottom shelf of the fridge and put a plate underneath to catch drips. If you are really pressed for time, immerse the meat'wrapped tightly in plastic'in cold water, being sure to change the water every 30 minutes. In cooking, remember that hot foods should be hot and cold foods should be cold. Invest in oven and meat thermometers to test the temperatures of foods. People who take dishes to a meal at someone else's house often have the dish out for about an hour, on average. An insulated holder can help preserve a hot or cold dish for the trip. Even eating has its own set of rules. If you need to taste-test a dish before serving, use a clean utensil and do not double-dip. Almost a quarter of Americans who responded to one survey said they follow the 'three-second rule,' which purports that food remains safe for about three seconds after falling to the floor. But the floor is where people walk, traipsing in things from outside that are best kept out of mouths, so this is not a rule to follow! If you have prepared too much food'difficult to avoid during the holidays'store leftovers safely. Dividing foods into small containers allows them to cool quickly below the 'danger zone' in which bacteria can easily grow. And for people who leave foods on the counter to cool for fear of lowering the refrigerator temperature, this is not necessary anymore: Refrigerators are made to maintain set temperatures. Nevertheless, this is another good place for a thermometer to make sure that the closed-door temperature remains below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, a clearly visible thermometer placed in the freezer can assure you that the temperature is kept at a constant level of zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Finally, eating leftovers has another set of rules to follow. Leftovers have already been exposed to contamination, so you should be even more careful about the length of time they are out of the fridge and in the process of preparation. Also, do not forget to heat them completely before eating: A quick warm-up in the oven is not good enough. Fields-Gardner is the director of services for The Cutting Edge, an HIV nutrition company in the Chicago area. She is a member of the International AIDS Society and the American Dietetic Association's Dietetic Practice Group on HIV and AIDS..

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Cade Fields-Gardner