If the batter contains raw egg, you could be exposing yourself to a food-borne illness.
"I think people tend to like to lick the spoon or taste the cookie batter and it's probably not a good practice," says Arlene King, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.
"When I was a kid my mother would give me the spoon to lick when we were making cookies or cakes and whatever, and eggs can be a source of a particular bacterial infection called salmonella, so it isn't a good idea to actually eat raw cookie batter or raw batter in general."
That caution extends to eggnog, a rich sweet beverage often made with raw eggs. To be safe, look for recipes that call for the eggs to be cooked.
"I think it's important that people are aware that some foods are a bit riskier than others in terms of being vehicles of food-borne illnesses," says King. "They would include anything that's made out of milk products, things made with eggs, and of course poultry is important."
Dairy products can include milk, cream, cheese, yogurt and products containing them such as cream pies and quiches. Fish and seafood and meat or meat products also fall into the high-risk realm.
"Most food-borne illnesses result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, those kinds of symptoms, but occasionally particularly young people or pregnant women and elderly people or people with preexisting health problems can develop complications as well, like blood infections for instance, as a result of some of these bacterial infections," the Toronto-based King said in a phone interview.
"Or they can simply develop severe enough diarrhea and vomiting that they're dehydrated. It results in pretty serious illness."
Other symptoms can include fever and stomach cramps.
Health Canada says there are about four million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year.
Holidays, with large gatherings where many of the riskier foods are often served and perhaps not stored properly, can provide plenty of opportunities for violations of food safety principles and therefore risks of being exposed to various bacteria and viruses.
By taking a few precautions, there are more chances your family and friends can remain healthy.
"Especially when you're preparing food for a lot of other people, wash your hands thoroughly and don't prepare food for other people if you're sick, if you've had any kind of intestinal illness as an example," says King.
"It's true for your family but definitely if you're hosting a whole pile of people, and ensure that utensils and surfaces are washed down thoroughly with soap and water so that you don't cross-contaminate food."
Even better is adding five millilitres (one teaspoon) of bleach to about a litre of water. Spray surfaces, including cutting boards, to sanitize, then wipe them down with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Turkey is another source of salmonella.
"Salmonella is a pretty key theme, I think, when we're talking about the holiday season," King notes.
Frozen poultry should never be thawed on the counter — keep it refrigerated until fully thawed.
Raw poultry needs to be cooked to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh of a whole turkey before cooking to make sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 82 C (180 F). Poultry parts, ground poultry or stuffing (cooked alone or in the bird) should have a temperature of 165 F (74 C).
Remove stuffing from poultry or meats and refrigerate it in a separate container.
After the feast, you have two hours to refrigerate leftovers or it's advised to toss out the food. Disease-causing bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature. Place food in small shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze it to help get the temperature down quickly.
"If in doubt, throw it out," King says emphatically.
Reheat leftovers only once.
"Every time you take it out (of the refrigerator) and you raise and lower the temperature there's more of an opportunity for bacterial growth. I think the 'once' rule is a safe rule," says King.
"Generally people don't want to be wasteful, but I think there's a point at which you're being protective of health by being careful about what you keep and what you don't."
Bring leftover sauce, soup and gravy to a boil. Microwave leftovers with a microwave-safe approved lid or plastic wrap for thorough heating.
With buffets, don't put out all the food at once. Replenish platters as food disappears and keep hot foods hot (60 C/140 F or warmer) and cold foods cold (4 C/40 F or colder). Use warming units and trays of ice if food is going to be out longer than two hours.
"I know it's easier from the point of view of being a hostess to put a whole pile of food out, but I think it's a better practice, a safer practice, to put out smaller quantities, wait for that to be consumed and then put out more," says King. "Just tell people that there's more coming."
Keeping food at the correct temperature also applies when transporting it home from the store or to potluck gatherings.
At this time of the year, items to be kept cold can go in the car trunk until you reach your destination, then pop them into the refrigerator or freezer. You can also use ice packs and coolers.
To keep hot foods hot, there are packs and thermal containers available.
"If you're not going too far, you can wrap everything up in towels, wrap it up with aluminum foil to keep that heat there and of course serve it immediately on arrival," says King.
Better still is to take food frozen or ready made and cook it on site. "That often isn't feasible because your hostess has a whole pile of other food so you've got to cook it at home and while you're en route keep it hot until it's actually served."
Fridges are often overstocked at this time of year, but cool air must circulate to keep food safe. Keep raw meat and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods.
For more information, visit Ontario.ca/safefoodfacts or http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/safety-salubrite/index-eng.php
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