Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health weighs in on holiday food safety

ONTARIO—Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Arlene King is a self-described holiday party hostess enthusiast, who not only loves throwing festive gatherings, but also ensuring her gatherings, and others across the province, are safe from food-borne illness.

The Expositor had the opportunity to speak with Dr. King last week about holiday hosting and some of the common mistakes that people make in the kitchen during the hustle and bustle of the busy Christmas season.

“There are two key mistakes that people make hosting big gatherings,” began Dr. King. “The first one is the issue of self serve food and it being left out. It is very important to keep hot food warm and cold food cold and it should never be left out beyond a couple hours. Hot trays and ice bins should always be used.”

“Also, people will commonly leave out large quantities of food during a self serve party,” continued Dr. King. “This isn’t the best idea. It is safer to put out small qualities and every two hours throw out what is not eaten and put out fresh food.”

Another common mistake people make is not keeping gravy and sauces hot, noted Dr. King.

“Gravy and sauces need to be kept really hot and used right away and not left sitting out,” warned Dr. King.

When asked about stuffing safety, Dr. King explained that it is okay to stuff poultry, but that a meat thermometer is a must and the stuffing needs be removed from the bird after cooking. After serving, Dr. King added that the stuffing should be cling wrapped in a dish, separate from the leftover meat.

“When I was a child I use to lick the spoon when my mother did her holiday baking,” revealed Dr. King. “This was common when I was growing up, but it not a safe practice. Batter often contains raw eggs that can make individuals sick, especially children and the elderly. Bottom line, do not lick the spoon.”

A good rule of thumb for holiday food preparation is “clean, separate and cook,” encouraged Dr. King.

“I recommend washing and drying all food, even produce that says on the label that it has already been washed,” explained Dr. King. “Ensure you separate raw food away from ready to eat food and use separate cutting boards for each.”

As for cooking, Dr. King said that is important to use a food thermometer to make sure that everything is cooked properly.

Other good rules of thumb are to “not rush or take short cuts and don’t prepare food for others if you are sick,” added Dr. King.

Following Dr. King’s tips and ensuring you have a clean kitchen workspace will help make your holiday party a safe and fun event.

As for Dr. King’s favourite holiday treat to cook, she said that her family loves stuffing.

Robin Burridge