Beware of Kitchen Fires or Food Poisoning at New Year’s Celebrations By Tod Aronovitz | 12/30/13 | 0 Comment

While the New Year holiday brings on a great deal of excitement, seasonal activities can also bring distractions which can cause kitchen fires and related accidents, especially when preparing a holiday feast. Here is a smorgasbord of cooking and food safety tips that home chefs should follow to keep their families and guests safe during New Year celebrations.

Cooking Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the second leading cause of home fire deaths in the United States.  The frenetic pace of holiday entertaining can make it easy to forget even basic practices that keep everyone safe.  The following tips will act as reminders:

  • Monitor the kitchen. If you must leave, even for a brief time, be sure to turn off all burners on the stovetop. It is also easy to get distracted with phone calls, texts, or emails. Consider setting a timer for every dish on the stovetop or in the oven, to protect against overcooking and fires.
  • Keep the stovetop safe. Remove flammable items like towels or pot holders from the stove area. Position long pot handles in towards the stove to avoid accidentally knocking a hot cooking item off the stovetop.
  • Check your smoke detectors. It is a good idea to check your smoke alarms monthly. Be especially attentive to the need for batter replacement during the holidays, and never disable your smoke alarm.

Food Safety

While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, food borne illness affects some 76 million every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Food safety can be especially challenging during the holidays because not only is it cold and flu season, the menu traditionally contains more dishes than can properly fit in a refrigerator or oven. Also some people are more vulnerable to food borne illness, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Top suggestions include:

  • Put a master plan in place. Consider your space and kitchen appliances. Figure out how to keep hot foods at 140 degrees or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees or below. If using coolers, keep them stocked with plenty of clean ice and check them frequently to replace melted ice. Don’t depend on outside weather to maintain foods at safe temperatures.
  • Cook to proper temperature and use a thermometer. There is simply no other way to determine if food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. Cook foods to at least 165 degrees and keep them above 140 degrees during serving.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. It’s easy to linger at the table and lose track of time. Store leftovers in 2-inch deep, shallow containers in a refrigerator that has plenty of air circulation.
  • If serving turkey, properly defrost it or buy a fresh one.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often—before, during, and after food preparation.  Wash with hot water and soap, up to your wrists and between your fingers, for approximately 20 seconds.
  • Wash all food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counter tops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Wash all fresh produce. Wash even prepackaged greens, to minimize potential bacterial contamination.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees. Use a thermometer to ensure food is reheated enough, even if you microwave it.
  • Keep “sticky fingers” out of the kitchen.  Prevent those who are not involved in the preparation from picking at it or touching it.
  • If serving apple cider, confirm that it is pasteurized.
  • Be careful with eggs. Some holiday drink recipes call for uncooked eggs, but use pasteurized eggs or cook the eggs yolks lightly with sugar for a safer recipe.

There is a wealth of information provided by government agencies at the website, foodsafety.gov.  Look for helpful hints about holiday food safety to ensure that celebrations are memorable, but not for the wrong reasons.

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