Raw foods of animal origin as opposed to natural fruits or vegetables are the most common culprits for contamination which can lead to food poisoning also known as foodborne illness.
Among the list of common culprits are:
- Raw meat
- Poultry (which includes the most famous of all birds, the Thanksgiving turkey)
- Shellfish, and
- Unpasteurized milk.
Washing your fruits and vegetables is the first line of defense against food borne illness. However, washing food only decreases the risk of contamination; it does not eliminate it. You should also be sure to thoroughly wash your hands as well as your utensils and work surfaces, such as counters and cutting boards before you begin food preparation.
Next, avoid cross-contamination. Separate your foods! I had no idea about the dangers of cross-contamination before the Cooking Channel and the likes of Gordon Ramsay. Use separate utensils, cutting boards and plates for raw (uncooked) produce and for raw (uncooked) meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Best practices include separating these food items while shopping at the grocery store and at home in the refrigerator.
Know the proper cooking temperatures for your foods. Most home cooks are naive enough to think they can tell when food is "done" simply by sight (color). There is no way to know for sure that the food is safe to eat without a food thermometer to know if the food has reached its safe minimum cooking temperature.
During mealtime, keep the food hot. And after the meal, refrigerate the leftovers quickly. Some illness-causing bacteria can grow within two (2) hours unless you refrigerate them. Of course, this time can be shorter in a hot holiday kitchen or during the dog days of summer.
So, follow these safe, simple tips and enjoy the holiday season!