Preparing for Christmas takes so much time and energy that the last thing you want is to fall ill. Unfortunately, a whirlwind of festive meals, yuletide parties and endless visitors only increases our chances of picking up a bug. We asked the experts to list the top Christmas hygiene hazards and how you can avoid them . . .
Cooking will kill any bacteria so there is no need to wash the meat. But make sure you cook meat and poultry until the juices run clear
NEVER RINSE TURKEY UNDER THE TAP
Uncooked turkey can harbour harmful salmonella and campylobacter bugs. But don’t try to rinse it clean in the sink, warns Professor Sally Bloomfield, a hygiene expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. ‘You may splash bacteria from the raw meat on to your surfaces,’ she says — water droplets can travel more than 50cm and only a few campylobacter particles are needed to cause food poisoning.
Cooking will kill any bacteria so there is no need to wash the meat. But make sure you cook meat and poultry until the juices run clear, says Professor Bloomfield: ‘The centre must reach 70c for at least two minutes — use a cooking thermometer to double check.’
AIR KISS RATHER THAN SHAKE HANDS
It’s hard to get through the party season without shaking hands, but this does increase your risk of catching colds and flu.
Most cold viruses are transferred by hand-to-hand contact. They then enter the body when you touch your eye or nose. Greeting people with a peck on the cheek reduces the risk, according to a report published in the American Journal of Infection Control in 2008.
The same approach could cut the risk of catching salmonella, campylobacter and norovirus, which cause stomach upsets, as these bugs can also be spread by hand.
With so many meals to prepare, there’ll also be a great deal of cleaning up.But don’t use a dishcloth that’s been in a sink with the chopping board, as it is likely to be contaminated with germs
STICK DISHCLOTHS IN THE DISHWASHER
With so many meals to prepare, there’ll also be a great deal of cleaning up. But don’t use a dishcloth that’s been in a sink with the chopping board, as it is likely to be contaminated with germs, says Professor Bloomfield. ‘Either use disposable towels or put your cloths in the dishwasher as the hot temperatures and detergents will kill germs,’ she advises.
WASH HANDS AFTER HANDLING VEG
Handling raw vegetables can expose you to E. coli, a common cause of upset stomach, advises Sarah Coe, a nutrition scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation.
The bugs usually come from water used for irrigation or fertilisers.
Treat raw vegetables like meat: wash your hands after handling them, and use a different chopping board for raw and ready-to-eat food.
Some people wrap leftovers only when they have cooled — but this can encourage bugs to grow
USE CLING FILM ON HOT FOOD
Some people wrap leftovers only when they have cooled — but this can encourage bugs to grow. ‘It creates condensation — providing a watery culture which allows microorganisms on the food to grow,’ says Dr Paul Matewele, an expert in microbiology and immunology at London Metropolitan University.
‘If the food is very hot, it is unlikely to have any bacteria on it. That’s a better time to cover it.’
GIVE THE SICK THEIR OWN CROCKERY
If you or a member of your family fall ill with flu or a winter vomiting bug, keep their utensils and crockery separate from others.
‘It helps stop everyone else from getting ill,’ says John Oxford, Professor of Virology at Queen Mary University of London.
Where possible, wash their crockery in a dishwasher — it’s almost impossible for hands to withstand temperatures which could kill the flu virus when we wash up by hand. Water inside a dishwasher can be heated up to 75c, which gives a more hygienic clean.