Hints for a safe, enjoyable Christmas

18.12.2007

<div>At Christmas time, food is often an important part of the festivities. The refrigerators are filled with ingredients and the tables with prepared foods. Food is also given and received as gifts. Good hygiene, an unbroken cold chain, correct handling and storage are the cornerstones of safe gourmandizing. The following gives hints on how you can ensure that the delicacies remain safe all the way from the shop to the festive table. </div>

When you buy Christmas delicacies, remember to acquaint yourself carefully with the markings on the packaging. Only serve as much food as will be used at one time.  At room temperature bacteria causing food poisoning will multiply quickly and the shelf-life of foodstuffs will be shortened considerably. Keep the foodstuffs cold enough, and note that different foodstuffs require a different storage temperature. Take time to properly heat all of the foodstuffs to be served hot, traditional casserole dishes to over + 60 ºC and meat to at least +75 ºC throughout. Throw away the food that has been served and heated once. Remember that the cleanliness of your hands, tools, work and storage areas is important in order to avoid food poisonings. Do not use products that have exceeded the use by date.

Also read the markings on the packaging on the ham carefully

The markings on the packaging offer information on for example the ingredients and additives in the product, especially ingredients causing hypersensitivity, the origin and quantity of the contents.

It is not worth buying a ready made ham based on the product name only.  The markings on the packaging should be checked out carefully as the product’s actual name, for example a ham based product, might be quite imperceptible. The list of ingredients also informs you of the product’s meat content, for example.

The packaging informs you as to whether the ham has been stored frozen after having been salted and sold defrosted. This kind of ham should not be refrozen. The marking “tuoresuolattu” (fresh salted) means that the ham was salted while fresh. Most hams are stored frozen and salted after they have been defrosted, which means that they are not fresh salted.

Certain ingredients causing hypersensitivity and the products derived from these, with some exceptions, always have to be declared on the packaging. In Finland, mustard, celery, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphite have been added to the earlier list (milk, eggs, wheat, barley, rye and oats, fish and shellfish, nuts and soy) of agents that require declaration.

Keep your hands and tools clean

Wash your hands often:
- always before you start preparing food
- always when you start handling new foodstuffs and
- always after visiting the toilet

Always use only clean tools
- In order to avoid cross contamination, clean the table surfaces and change or carefully wash the tools, such as knives, servers and cutting boards, if you have used them when handling raw foodstuffs.  Wash your hands at the same time.

Do not prepare food for others if you have symptoms of a stomach bug.

Keep the refrigerator clean, adjust it and fill it up correctly

Keep the refrigerator clean and free of old foodstuffs.
- Clean the refrigerator carefully in conjunction with the Christmas cleaning, using a clean cloth and dishwashing liquid. At the same time remove old food.

Adjust and fill the refrigerator correctly, so that the food will remain safe during the period of time you have planned. You can set the correct temperature using the temperature regulator of the refrigerator.
- Set a full refrigerator at a colder temperature than normal.
- In a correctly set and filled refrigerator the bottom part is usually the coldest.

Ensure that the refrigerator
- is cold enough
- can circulate the air.

Keep the food cold enough

Food that requires cold storage should be stored correctly in order to keep it safe:
- Christmas delicacies such as ham, fresh cheeses and fresh pâtés should be kept cold all the time, below  +6 ºC.
- The ham should be eaten in one week or preferably before the New Year.
- Keep fish products, such as roe, cold and hot smoked salmon and raw salted fish below +3 ºC.
- Use frozen and defrosted roe within 24 hours.

Properly heat all of the foods to be served hot.

If the hot food is not eaten directly after preparation, it has to be cooled as quickly as possible, for example in a cold water bath or covered outside before it is put in the refrigerator.  

Only put out at room temperature as much food as will be used at one time

Only put out at room temperature the amount of food needed. For hygiene reasons it is safer to cut for example the necessary number of slices of ham and to put them into a serving dish instead of lifting the whole ham onto the table to warm up.

Destroy uneaten food that has been kept warm. Do not mix old and new food, for example leftovers from the traditional casseroles or herring salad with fresh food.

Do not heat mulled wine (glögi) in an electric kettle or in an aluminium pot

Electric kettles should only be used for boiling water. In some of the electric kettles the element is uncovered, and the acidity of the drink can leach copper out of it. Copper is an important trace element for humans in small amounts, but large amounts can cause acute poisonings. An aluminium pot is not to be used for heating the drink either, as the acidic drink dissolves aluminium from the aluminium pot.

Heat the traditional casseroles properly, to over + 60 ºC

- Frozen casserole dishes should be defrosted in the refrigerator, so that they will keep from getting warm during defrosting.
- Heat casserole dishes properly, to a temperature over +60 ºC.
- Do not heat and cool casserole dishes several times.
- Do not mix a product that has once been heated with a fresh one.
- Keeping warm food at room temperature and a slow cooling makes it possible for bacteria that cause food poisoning to multiply in the product. Rather heat the amount of casserole dishes to be eaten at one time and keep the rest cold in the refrigerator. 
- Use only clean servers.
- Do not refreeze a product that has already been frozen.

Cook ham and poultry thoroughly, at least to +75 ºC

When preparing Christmas meals, remember that raw meat can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning.
- Handle raw and cooked meat using separate tools.
- Use separate tools when handling raw ham and raw poultry, for example turkey.
- Use a meat thermometer when cooking meat.
- Cook the meat thoroughly and very carefully, at least to a temperature of +75 ºC. Disease causing bacteria are destroyed at this temperature.

Handle the ham with clean, dry hands only

A raw ham bought frozen keeps in the freezer (-18 ºC) for 3-4 months, and in a cool place, for example a refrigerator, at below + 6 ºC for about seven days.

Defrost the Christmas ham in the refrigerator before cooking it. Just before preparing it, you can move the ham into room temperature for a while, but for no longer than a couple of hours. If you keep the ham at room temperature, the bacteria will multiply quickly. This may cause food poisoning. The buyer of the ham should follow the defrosting and preparation instructions given by the merchant.

If you keep raw or cooked ham outside, protect it carefully. If the outside temperature rises, bacteria can multiply in the ham and its shelf life is shortened. If the ham freezes, liquid will leak out of it later when it is being defrosted.

Always wash and dry your hands before cutting the ham. The ham should be sliced using a clean cutting knife. If you do not wash your hands or cutting tools before cutting the ham, they can transfer to the ham for example staphylococcus bacteria that may cause food poisoning.

Ensure correct packaging and a long shelf life for delicacies given as gifts

If you give food as a gift, pay special attention to the hygienic packaging and shelf life of the product. Safe products for gifts are for example biscuits, chocolates, spices, mustards and canned food.

If the product is kept at room temperature, there will be a risk of food poisoning. An incorrectly stored product will go off quickly. Do not put Christmas delicacies that go off quickly in Christmas parcels - such as ham, vacuum-packed fish products, unripened cheeses and pâtés – unless you can ensure that the product’s cold chain remains unbroken all the way to the final user of the product.  

Clarify the country specific limitations and regulations on food gifts

If you want to take Finnish delicacies as a gift abroad, you should clarify the potential limitations and regulations on importing food from the embassy or the representative office of the country in question.

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