Food Safety at Christmas

Food Safety at Christmas

By Guest Blogger, Dr Kylie Hewson

Don’t forget the roast chicken for Christmas lunch – but also don’t forget food safety!

But what does ‘food safety’ actually mean? And how can we talk about it without getting bored and losing interest? It can be difficult to find a food safety message that will be effective and understood by everyone. Variables such as a person’s profession (do they work with food or not?), background (what sort of foods they like to prepare and eat?), understanding of foodborne illness (are they a doctor, or someone who has experienced foodborne illness previously?) and their understanding of bacteria (e.g. do they have a background in science or food technology?), will significantly impact on which food safety message will be most effective. But importantly, everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness!

Food safety is particularly important over the holiday season as people are much more likely to be catering for more people than usual in a single sitting and this is when things are more likely to go wrong.

A good place to start is with the Australian Food Safety Information Council’s (FSIC) ‘food safety at home’ quiz (, which will provide you with a starting point for how good (or not) your current food safety practices are at home. I scored 22.

There’s a lot of extra information in the answers to this quiz, which can be overwhelming and definitely hard to remember and put into practice when you are trying to follow a new recipe for a Christmas meal and pressed for time. Perhaps the best way to think about food safety is that it is a combination of a lot of small things that will prevent yourself (or anyone you’ve cooked for) from spending the holidays curled up on the bathroom floor (or worse)! That does not make for good memories of your carefully prepared Christmas meal.

So the simple, general, food safety theme I use when preparing a meal is CLEAN, COOK, TIME. Are the ingredients and utensils clean? Have I cooked it enough? How long has it been since it was cooked? Three little words are easier to remember than a whole page of information, which is important when we all have so many other things to remember at Christmas.

So, to chicken meat. When talking about any raw animal product it’s important to remember that it will not be sterile, even if it looks clean. Bacteria (most of which are harmless) will still be present on clean, raw chicken meat and the application of heat is really the only sure way to destroy bacteria. A previous Chook Chat blog ( extends the general food safety message above to include ‘CHILL’ (instead of TIME) and ‘SEPARATE’. It’s a good idea to take extra precautions when handling raw animal products, and especially when cooking for a crowd. Chicken meat should always be kept ‘CHILLed’ in the fridge or freezer as bacteria don’t like the cold and won’t grow below 4°C – the best way to defrost chicken meat is in the fridge, or better yet, use a microwave. ‘SEPARATE’ relates to ensuring the juices that are on and in raw chicken meat don’t splash or drip on to any foods or utensils as bacteria are plentiful in these types of juices (as well as separating utensils or equipment used on raw chicken from those used for preparing other foods – particularly foods eaten raw – unless of course the equipment can be thoroughly cleaned in hot water in between uses).

Remember that bacteria are present everywhere – on your hands, clothes, kitchen utensils, other ingredients on the bench and even in the air. Chicken meat that has been left out for more than 4 hours after cooking should be thrown out, in case any bacteria have ended up on the food after cooking, some of which could have been happily growing at room temperature since. If in doubt – throw it out!

Which brings me to leftovers – there are usually plenty this time of year. Leftover chicken should definitely be reheated to steaming before it is consumed. Or better yet, cook a whole other meal using the leftover chicken meat in a pie, a casserole or on a pizza! But whichever way you use your chicken leftovers, make sure they are prepared with clean utensils, are reheated thoroughly and haven’t been in the fridge too long (no more than 2 days).

Our regular blogger, Dr Vivien Kite, will be back with another blog in February.

In the meantime, when it comes to the roast chook remember ‘Clean, Chill, Cook Separate’ and enjoy a safe, healthy, foodborne illness free Christmas!

By |2018-05-31T13:43:26+10:00December 9th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments