Follow food safety tips to keep holidays happy

The holiday season is in full swing, and our calendars are booked with office parties and family gatherings.  Most of these gatherings will involve food — and most of it will be served buffet style.  Whether you’re hosting or attending one of these parties, make sure to practice good food safety. 

The Centers for Disease Control estimate contaminated foods or beverages sicken one in six Americans. Here are some helpful tips from the Web site at www.foodsafety.gov to make sure you or your co-workers aren’t among those people:

Wash your hands.  Always wash your hands before and after handling food.

Keep cold food cold. Cold food should be held at 40 degrees or colder.  If you’re transporting cold food, carry it in a cooler with ice packs so your warm car doesn’t increase the temperature of the food. When serving, keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

Keep hot food hot. Hot foods should be held at 140 degrees or warmer. Transport hot food in insulated carriers to prevent temperature drops. For buffet tables, keep food hot by using chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays.

Use small serving trays. The best way to keep food at proper temperatures is to use small serving trays and replace items from cold or hot storage as needed. Make sure to replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already contains food. There are lots of hands that have been touching that dish while it’s been sitting out at room temperature.

Follow the two-hour rule. Food should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.  Keep track of how long foods have been sitting out and discard anything that’s been there two hours or more.

Don’t forget about the beverages. Plan on serving eggnog? If you’re making homemade eggnog, use a cooked base. Warm gently to a temperature of 160 degrees to destroy salmonella from the eggs. The mixture should firmly coat a metal spoon at this temperature. After cooking, chill and then add to remaining ingredients.  Other options for making eggnog are using pasteurized eggs or egg substitute products. Make sure the eggnog stays properly chilled throughout your party.

Store leftovers properly. Be sure to chill leftover food promptly. Don’t be tempted to save anything that’s been out longer than two hours. Divide leftovers in shallow containers that allow the food to cool rapidly. Make sure the office fridge is cleaned out weekly. When in doubt, throw it out.

Don’t let food-borne illness take the fun out of your holidays. Following these guidelines will ensure a healthy, happy staff this holiday season.