Christmas and holiday entertaining – how to be food-safe and COVID-smart (16 December 2020)

The Food Safety Information Council today launched their Christmas and Summer entertaining food safety advice.

Cathy Moir, FSIC Chair, said that this Summer and Christmas time is going to be a particular challenge as we also have to be aware of COVID-19 safety requirements as well as the usual need to be extra careful with food safety practices when catering for a lot of people in the hot summer weather.

‘Before arranging your Christmas and Summer gatherings, health authorities advise to make sure you are aware of any local COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed. If you or anyone in your household is unwell or have cold or flu symptoms, cancel the event, stay home and get tested. Don’t forget to contact your guests just before the event to check they are feeling well and ask them not to attend if they are unwell. It’s also good sense to make a list of anyone who did attend,’ Ms Moir said.

‘Here are a few other COVID-19 specific tips from health authorities:

  1. Have plenty of handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser available to help maintain good hand hygiene. Put out paper towels for hand drying if you have a lot of guests or make sure you regularly change towels to make sure they are clean and dry.
  2. While COVID-19 isn’t likely to be spread via food it can be spread on surfaces. When meeting in social groups or with work colleagues don’t share food or drinks, this includes no communal sharing of crockery, glasses and cutlery (and no double dipping!).
  3. You may want to serve up individual plates of food rather than let people serve themselves.
  4. Set up seating to help people keep their distance and, if the weather permits, you may prefer to entertain outside where there is more space.

‘Our previous research found that one in three Australians are either in a vulnerable group for food poisoning themselves or live in a household with someone at risk. Any one of your guests could be in these vulnerable groups such as being pregnant, babies or toddlers, elderly or having reduced immune systems due to illness or certain medicines.

‘Here are some of our key Christmas and Summer entertaining food safety tips:

  1. Keep it clean: Don’t forget to wash your hands in warm soapy water before preparing and cooking food, and after handling eggs, seafood, raw meat, poultry, burgers and sausages. Ensure your tools, utensils and chopping-, cheese- and presentation boards are cleaned and dried thoroughly before you start preparing your food and ensure you clean any tools (especially wooden presentation boards) with hot soapy water after use. Give eskies which contained food for picnics a good wipe down too.
  2. Fail to plan, plan to fail: Plan ahead and don’t buy more food than you need. It’s vital that you don’t overstock your fridge and freezer, as this won’t allow the cool air to circulate freely and perishable food cannot be adequately frozen or chilled. Less food will also help to reduce food waste.
  3. Space is key: Make room in your fridge for perishable foods by removing alcohol and soft drinks and put them on ice in a container or laundry sink. This also stops guests opening the fridge and helps to maintain the temperature at 5°C or below. Use a fridge thermometer to check the temperature.
  4. Bird or bits? Think about getting a turkey breast that is simpler to cook, rather than a whole turkey. If you do need a whole turkey ask your supermarket if they sell them fresh rather than frozen. Otherwise it must be defrosted in your fridge which can take several days and also increase the risk of potentially contaminating ready to eat foods stored in the fridge.
  5. Don’t wash the chicken! Don’t wash any poultry before cooking as that will spread the bacteria around your kitchen. Cook the any poultry until a meat thermometer shows it has reached 75° C in the thickest part of the thigh and cook any stuffing separately as it will slow the cooking and the inside of the bird might not be fully cooked. Probe thermometers are readily available, easy to use and help you make sure that food has reached the right temperature.
  6. Don’t go raw. Cooked egg dishes are simple and nutritious but try to avoid raw or minimally cooked egg dishes, such as raw egg mayonnaise or aioli, eggnog or fancy desserts, which can be a particular risk for food poisoning. A safer alternative, if you want to serve raw egg dishes, is to look for pasteurised egg products.
  7. Christmas ham won’t last forever– check the storage instructions and best before or use by date before removing the ham from its plastic wrap, cover it with clean cloth soaked in water and vinegar so it doesn’t dry out, and store it in the fridge at or below 5°C. Keep the cloth moist to stop the ham drying out too much. It is important to remember that the use by date on the original packaging won’t apply after the packaging has been removed, so check the fine print and see if the ham has a suggested shelf life after opening. Reduced salt hams are now becoming popular but will not last as long as conventional hams so think how much you are going to use in the next week or so and freeze some for later.
  8. Phased roll-out: Don’t leave dips and other perishable chilled foods like patés, cold meats, soft cheeses like camembert and brie, cold poultry, cooked seafood like prawns and smoked salmon, sushi and salads out for more than two hours. Put out small amounts and replace (not top them up) from the fridge.
  9. Get it cold, quick. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible. If perishable foods and leftovers have been left out of the fridge for less than two hours they should be okay to refrigerate or freeze to eat later, so long as they haven’t been sitting in the sun. Never eat perishable food that has been unrefrigerated for more than four hours as it may not be safe and should be thrown away. Food should not be refrigerated if it has been outside in the heat for more than an hour and discarded after it has sat outside for 2 hours.
  10. Get it right hot. Always reheat leftovers to 75°C in the centre of the item or the thickest part to kill any food poisoning bugs. Use a probe thermometer to help you make sure that the leftovers have been reheated safely.

Finally, if you are stuck for Christmas presents for friends and relatives we would recommend you give the gift of online food safety training – we have partnered with Highfield e Learning to provide a simple online course for only $20 if you purchase before 31 December 2020 and you get the chance of winning a $50 Bunnings gift voucher find out more

Test your knowledge with our Christmas and holiday entertaining quiz.

For more information see our Food Safety at Christmas advice.

We would like to thank our partner Tonic Media Network who will be showing our handwashing and food safety community service announcements in GP, Pharmacy and hospital waiting rooms around Australia this Summer. Also thanks to our member First for Training who has sponsored our Summer campaign.

Media contact: Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or