HOUSTON Fun, family, friends ... and food poisoning? To protect yourself and your loved ones, take precaution in the kitchen this holiday season.
Baking with your kids can be an enjoyable holiday experience, but avoid the temptation of letting them taste uncooked food, says Dr. Marilyn Swanson, adjunct associate professor of pediatrics-nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the national program leader of maternal and child health at the USDA Children's Nutrition Research Center at BCM. Licking batter off the spoon, for instance, a holiday custom for most, can cause food-borne illness.
"You don't want to lick the spoon because of possible infection by salmonella, the bacteria sometimes found in raw eggs," she said.
Swanson also recommends using pasteurized eggs when making eggnog or Hollandaise and in any other recipe that calls for eggs but will not be cooked.
Another important issue in food safety is cross-contamination. "Raw food like poultry, eggs, fish and meat can have some microorganisms," said Swanson. "It's important to have separate knives and cutting boards ones for raw meat and ones for cooked foods or fruits and vegetables."
Salmonella, listeria, e-coli and other harmful microorganisms can accumulate on raw foods and transfer to surfaces. Simply washing a cutting board after use may not remove all microorganisims.
Swanson advises avoiding all foods with raw eggs in it, thoroughly cooking all raw foods, and properly and immediately storing leftovers in the refrigerator.
"If you've made homemade chili in a stockpot, for example, and you stick it in the fridge, you think, 'I'm refrigerating it, I've done everything right,' but it takes a very long time for the center to cool down," she said. "Instead, put leftovers into containers that are no more than two to three inches deep."
Minor cases of food poisoning are not usually a problem for healthy adults. Food-borne illnesses are a bigger problem for infants and young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic disease or weakened immune systems.
"Kids' digestive tracts don't overcome foreign bodies as well as do those of adults," said Swanson.
Following a few simple food safety measures beforehand ensures your appetite stays healthy when you're finally ready to dig in.