Christmas tips for safe cooking at home

18.12.2006

<div>At Christmas time, kitchens are a bustle with people cooking and refrigerators abound with raw foodstuffs. The Food Safety Authority Evira wishes to remind consumers that they can influence the quality and safety of foodstuffs at home so that all the delicacies remain safe from the store to the Christmas table. Safe foodstuffs make food a part of the joys of Christmas.</div>

Clean hands, clean utensils

Cleanness plays a crucial role in avoiding food poisonings. Always wash your hands before you start cooking food, before handling new raw materials and after you have been to the bathroom. Do not cook food for others if you have symptoms of stomach bug. Always use clean utensils. Change or wash utensils, such as knives, serving utensils and chopping boards if you have used them for handling of raw foodstuffs. Wash your hands also at the same time. When cleaning the home for Christmas, also remember to clean the refrigerator and to discard any outdated foodstuffs. Use a clean cloth and dishwashing detergent for cleaning.

Storage of Christmas foods

At Christmas, the refrigerator is filled to the brim in many homes. In order to prevent foodstuffs from going bad prematurely, make sure the temperature in the fridge is sufficiently low and air circulation is not prevented. The inside temperature of the refrigerator can be adjusted with the regulator provided on the fridge. The coldest place of a correctly adjusted and filled refrigerator is usually at the bottom.

A refrigerator that is full should be adjusted to a lower temperature than normally. Perishable foodstuffs should be kept at below +8oC throughout their life cycle to ensure their safety. For most foodstuffs the best mean temperature is +5ºC.  Fish products, such as cold and hot smoked fish, raw salted fish and roe require a temperature of less than +3ºC, however.

If cooked food is not eaten immediately, it has to be cooled down quickly. Only take the required amount of food out of the fridge. Do not mix old and new food together, e.g. leftovers of casseroles or rosolli salad kept at room temperature, but discard any leftovers that have been kept warm. Also remember to heat up properly food that is served hot, to at least 60oC.

Aluminium foil is aroma-tight and thereby well suited as protective wrapping for Christmas foods and ham. However, aluminium foil should not be wrapped over dishes made of silver, nickel silver or stainless steel. The resulting electrochemical corrosion will create holes in the foil, and aluminium can be transmitted to the food. Christmas ham should be placed on a ceramic tray, if it is covered with aluminium foil.

Store Christmas ham in a cold place

A frozen ham can be kept in the freezer (-18 ºC) in original package for 3-4 months, and in the refrigerator or a corresponding cold place at below + 6ºC for about 7 days. The frozen ham has to be thawed in the fridge before it is baked, as it will quickly go bad at room temperature. The Christmas ham can be taken out of the fridge for a short time before baking, but not for more than a couple of hours. Always observe the thawing and preparation instructions provided by the store.

If raw or baked ham is stored outdoors, it has to be carefully protected. Should the outdoor temperature increase, bacteria can multiply in the ham and make it less preservable. If the ham freezes, on the other hand, liquid will later be released from it as it thaws. Baked ham should between meals be stored at a temperature of 0º - +6ºC, and the whole Christmas ham should be finished in one week, e.g. by New Year.

Always wash and dry your hands before handling or carving the Christmas ham and use a clean carving knife. From the point of view of food hygiene, it is advisable to carve the required number of ham slices and serve them in a separate dish, instead of putting the whole ham on the table to warm up. Dirty hands and knives may transmit e.g. staphylococci bacteria into the ham. The bacteria multiply quickly in the ham, if it is kept at room temperature. This may cause food poisoning.

Turkey

If poultry is served at the Christmas table, always remember that raw poultry may contain salmonella and cambylobacter. Poultry must always be handled using separate utensils, and thoroughly cooked to a temperature of at least +75ºC. Pathogen bacteria are destroyed at this temperature. Use a meat thermometer, and remember to clean your hands, utensils, worktops and chopping boards carefully to avoid cross-contamination.
Fish and roe

Safe storage temperature for vacuum-packed cold smoked and raw salted fish, for fish products prepared at home, as well as for roe is +3ºC or less, also in the refrigerator at home. Never use products after their sell-by date. Roe is a perishable product. Frozen and thawed roe should be used within 24 hours. Opened fish packages should not be stored for several days. Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickly at room temperature and the storage time of the products becomes considerably shorter. Only take out the required amount of fish or roe, and kept the rest in a cold place. Discard leftover fish products that have been at room temperature.

Casseroles

Frozen casseroles should be thawed in the refrigerator so that they do not become too warm. Heat the casseroles thoroughly to a temperature of more than 60ºC. Do not reheat casseroles several times, and do not mix a casserole that has already been heated once with a new casserole. Keeping warm food at room temperature where it cools down slowly accelerates multiplication of food poisoning bacteria in the product. Heat up the amount of casserole needed at one meal and keep the rest in the fridge. Do not re-freeze products that have been thawed.

Food gifts

Keeping food products at room temperature involves risk of food poisoning. Incorrectly stored products go bad quickly. Perishable Christmas delicacies, such as ham, vacuum-packed fish products, soft cheese and pâtés should not be wrapped up as Christmas gifts, unless an unbroken cold chain can be ensured all the way to the final user. Products that can be safely given as gifts include e.g. biscuits, chocolate, spices, mustards and preserves.

Do not heat mulled wine in a water kettle or in an aluminium pan
Some water kettles are equipped with a visible heating resistance that heats up the water. Acidic mulled wine may cause corrosion, which releases copper from the resistance. Copper is an important mineral for humans in small quantities, but large quantities may even cause acute poisonings. Water kettles should only be used to boil water. Acidic mulled wine can cause corrosion also in aluminium pans, with aluminium released into the mulled wine, which is why aluminium pans should also not be used to heat mulled wine.

Always read the labeling

Labeling contains information e.g. on the ingredients and additives of the product, on any ingredients that may be allergens, as well as on the origin and on the amount of the content. Never buy Christmas ham solely on the basis of the product name, but check the labeling, as the actual name of the product (e.g. ham product) may appear in quite small print. The list of ingredients also provides information about e.g. the meat content of the product.

If salted ham is frozen for storage and then thawed before sold in the store, this is indicated in the labeling. Ham like this should no be re-frozen. Indication "fresh salted", on the other hand, refers to ham that has been salted when fresh. Most hams are frozen for storage and salted after thawing, i.e. they are not fresh salted.

Certain allergenic ingredients and products processed from these must always be indicated in the labelling, with a few exceptions. The list of allergens that need to be indicated in Finland (milk, egg, wheat, barley, rye and oats, fish and shellfish, nuts and soy) has been supplemented with the following: mustard, celery, sesame seed, as well as sulphur oxide and sulphite.

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