Nausea, vomiting and stomach ache are some symptoms of food poisoning. / sur

Ten top tips for how to avoid food poisoning this Christmas

Illness caused by mistakes in cooking and storing food can ruin the festivities

MARTA FERNÁNDEZ VALLEJO MADRID.

Nearly everyone eats and drinks too much at Christmas, so perhaps it is not surprising that it is a time of year when the most cases of food poisoning occur. Food can be contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites if it is not handled, prepared or stored correctly, and even a small mistake can have major consequences.

This is some of the advice given by experts for this time of year:

Shopping

Many people buy tinned asparagus, tuna, anchovies or mussels at this time of year, but it is advisable to steer clear of tins which are bent, bulging or rusty and if they release a gas when opened then throw them away immediately. It is also important to check the expiry and ‘best by’ dates on the packaging.

Hygiene

Wash your hands with hot water and soap before handling food, during the cooking process and always when you go to the bathroom. Avoid touching your mouth or nose with your hands, especially when you sneeze or cough.

The days in the run-up to Christmas are also a good time to clean the fridge and freezer, and the cloths used for cleaning should always be washed after use and not just rinsed with water.

Which foods should be washed?

Fruit and vegetables, always. Wash them before peeling, cutting, cooking and eating. However, chicken and eggs should never be washed because that can spread damaging bacteria.

It is a good idea to wash tins before opening them, experts say, because they could have been contaminated by contact with rodents or insects during transportation.

Cross-contamination

It is essential to keep raw and cooked food apart and use different utensils for each of them. Raw foods can contain bacteria or other pathogenic micro-organisms which contaminate others through direct or indirect contact. For example, via the hands of the person handling them, knives, cutlery and also cutting boards, which should be cleaned well with soap and water before being used for another type of food.

Minimise risks

Limit the use of highly perishable products such as sauces and creams which need to be eaten immediately and never left outside the fridge even for a short time.

Shellfish concerns

Shellfish is one of the most popular products in Spain at this time of year, but it needs to be treated with special care. The Spanish Food Safety Agency advises people not to eat the dark flesh contained in the head of any type of shellfish, to reduce exposure to cadmium. This metal accumulates in the liver and kidney for between ten and 30 years, so it is best not to suck the heads or use the juice to make sauces or stocks.

Cook correctly

Always cook at the recommended temperature. It is important to ensure that food is completely cooked all the way through and there are no raw areas.

Conservation

Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods immediately, in other words within two hours after they are cooked or prepared. Control the temperature of the fridge to ensure that it does not exceed 4C. The best way to thaw out frozen food is inside the fridge.

Be careful with raw fish

In general fish is best frozen at minus 20 degrees for at least 72 hours to prevent micro-organisms developing and remove the risk of the anisakis parasite. This is essential if the fish is to be eaten raw.