It’s Christmas party season! You’re in your finery, you’ve booked the hotel or restaurant and you’re in a festive mood – what could possibly go wrong? Without wanting to be a party pooper, there’s plenty that could be going on behind the scenes, including issues with Christmas party food.
Did you check the Food Hygiene rating of the venue?
Displaying the Food Hygiene Rating of an establishment is compulsory in Wales, but not elsewhere in the UK. Many eateries proudly display their rating if they have a score of 4 or 5. However others with lower scores may not be so forthcoming.
A rating of 3 or above indicates that the premises and practises are hygienic. Two and below should be cause for concern. If the venue isn’t displaying their Food Hygiene Rating in a window or other prominent place, you can still find out what it is. All you have to do is visit www.food.gov.uk/ratings
Christmas party with buffet-style dining
Some Christmas buffets look absolutely amazing. The tables are groaning with the weight of various sandwiches, seafood, quiches, sausage rolls and pork pies, vol-au-vents, cheeses, quiches and desserts. Being the first in the queue not only means you get first pick of the goodies. Assuming it’s been prepared properly, it also means you’re more likely getting the party food at its safest.
Food which needs to be kept chilled in a fridge should not be left in ambient temperature for longer than four hours. So if you’re peckish at midnight and there are still a few curly smoked salmon sandwiches left from a 6 o’clock buffet – don’t be tempted. After four hours there’s the chance that bacteria will begin to multiply on the food.
Any hot party food should be kept hot – i.e. at a temperature of at least 63 degrees Celsius. It should also be replaced regularly and not just topped up.
Remember, there’s also huge potential for cross-contamination at a Christmas party with so many people using the same utensils and picking up food with their hands. Think on –you might wash your hands before meals and after using the toilet, but not everyone does…
Double-dipping and trying other people’s drinks
You know when you see chefs on TV and they’re tasting the sauce? They don’t use the same spoon they’re stirring it with. Neither do they use the testing spoon again. If they did, bacteria from their mouth would be transferred to the sauce.
For the very same reason, you should never double-dip a breadstick or crudité into a communal bowl of dip. Instead either dip once only, or transfer some dip to your plate, where you can dip to your heart’s content.
Trying other people’s drinks isn’t the most hygienic practice either. If you are going to do it – use a clean straw.
Let guests know what’s in your Christmas party food
My friend once went to a wedding where the mother of the bride had made the cake herself. When the time came for cutting the cake, the restaurant where the wedding was being held refused to serve it. This was because they had not prepared it themselves and could not be sure that it was safe to eat.
Naturally this caused a lot of upset, but the restaurant was following its own food safety guidelines. They also didn’t know what the cake contained, so would not want to be liable for any allergic reaction, should the cake contain unknown allergens.
If a Christmas party buffet is catered, there should be clear labelling of any allergens contained in food. Any food deemed gluten-free should be kept apart from other food containing gluten. It should also have been prepared separately to avoid cross contamination. For example, you cannot class a pizza as ‘gluten-free’ if it has been cooked on the same tray, in the same oven as other regular pizzas, even if it is made with gluten-free dough.
Make sure any casual Christmas staff are trained in food safety
Anyone preparing or serving food needs to hold a Level 2 Food Safety certificate as a minimum. That also applies to casual or temporary staff. Two of the most common forms of food poisoning are campylobacter and staphylococcus which can originate from poor hygiene practices by food handlers.
Coughing or sneezing on food, uncovered cuts, not washing hands, using the same chopping boards for raw and cooked foods are all simple ways of contaminating food. All staff should also be aware of the correct storage of food.