3 September

How to spoil Christmas (food)

Here’s the classic Christmas recipe for food poisoning. Make a large festive dish, preferably containing dangerous ingredients like undercooked eggs.[1] Put it on a buffet on Christmas Day and leave it there for hours – the warmer the day, the faster the bacteria multiply. (Well, there’s no room in the fridge and people are still eating.) Make sure it’s consumed by vulnerable people, like your elderly uncle and your pregnant cousin.

Although this recipe won’t always lead to spoiled food (and even if it does, your guests may be just a little bit sick) people die every year in Australia from scenarios just like this one.[2] You really don’t want to be walking out of the door on Christmas evening saying, “See you at the funeral.”

So plan to keep it safe:

  • Why not do a safe food handling course? They’re not hard and they don’t take long. (And the life you save may be your own!)
  • Know the high-risk foods.[3]
  • Refrigerate, refrigerate, refrigerate. This includes putting leftovers back into the fridge promptly.[4]

Turkeys should be thawed in the fridge, which is hard, particularly when you have all those trifles and salads to keep cold so, if possible, ask your butcher to thaw it in their cool room. Cook the turkey all the way through, using a meat thermometer to get it right, and cook the stuffing separately for maximum safety, because stuffing slows down the cooking of the bird and sometimes the stuffing itself has soaked up meat juices but hasn’t become hot enough to kill the meat bacteria.[5]

Buy your seafood as close as possible to the time you’ll be eating it, bring it home in an esky and be particularly careful with any fish you’re eating raw.[6]

Know how long you can keep your leftovers for (see 28 December).[7] And be wary of cross-contamination – use separate chopping boards, have separate serving utensils for each dish and make sure that food doesn’t bump into other food on the table or in the fridge.

The range of temperatures between 5˚C and 60˚C is called the danger zone and any food that stays in the danger zone for two hours should be thrown out. So put out smaller quantities of food, refresh them when needed and use a clean dish each time. (Put fresh dip on top of the last smears of expired dip at your peril.)

03 sep 2016.jpg
Weedy river bends and tired hummus are both dangerous dips.

My friend Jenny rang me yesterday in great excitement: her uncle died last month[8] and she has just found out that he left her his Christmas train set. She knows how much I love those so she invited me to help her set it up.

I went around this afternoon and we spread it over the dining table and, as well as the Yuletide Express and metres of track, there were quaint houses and cake shops and even a village pond full of skaters. When we finally had every last villager in place,[9] we stood back to admire it.

Then Jenny turned to me in consternation. “But it can’t go on the dining table at Christmas,” she said. “We’ll need every inch of it.”

The quintessential question of Christmas is not, as the carol writers would have it, “What child is this?” or even, “Quelle est cette odeur agreable?”[10] but “Where will I put it?”

[1] Home-made mayonnaise, tiramisu and mousse are repeat offenders.

[2] Food poisoning affects an estimated five million people in Australia each year and there are over a hundred deaths, so when you’re next in a fish and chip shop tossing up between flake and souvlaki, remember that doner kebabs kill more people than sharks do.

[3] I wish I could argue that brussels sprouts are too dangerous to bother with but it’s not strictly true.

[4] Buffets are a smorgasbord for greeblies as well as for humans.

[5] I’ve heard that Don argues that it shouldn’t be called stuffing anymore and that it has become technically redundant but he’s never said it to me because he likes my stuffing and doesn’t want me to stop making it.

[6] My nephew Ben says that, unless his fish is fresh enough to bite him, he wants it cooked all the way through.

[7] Not an issue for leftover profiteroles (because there’s no such thing).

[8] That wasn’t the exciting part.

[9] Most of them clustered around the huge village Christmas tree. We couldn’t resist it so we didn’t think they’d be able to either.

[10] “What is this nice smell?” (This is the title of a seventeenth-century French carol and the perfume in question is not the aroma of hot gingerbread or the fragrance of cut pine, but “the scent of heavenly glory, brought to this earth by God’s own son”, which, it seems, can outcompete a pungent stable.)

03 sep 2016.jpg

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