2017 December

What’s Cooking for the Holidays?

Like strangers in the night, the holidays are here creeping at our doorsteps! La Fiesta Dia de Gracia celebration is over now, so what is next? Eat the leftovers? Ouch! How long did you think those leftover dishes had been standing at room temperature, more than 2 hours? From the time it cooled down in the pot, served and left on the table (touched or untouched)? As a food safety professional, I am always concerned about food safety not only for myself and family but to all food consumers out there, both humans and brutes. Yes, not only human food but pet food industry is subjected to the same food safety standards as that of humans. Entonces, I am sharing with you basic food safety information and tips.

WHAT’S COOKING? No, I’m not directly inquiring about your present condition, status or what have you, as would the expression. I don’t mean to intrude your privacy. However, if you let me, I am asking you or your household about the food you are preparing for the forthcoming holidays in addition to your regular daily meals. Hence, the question is literal in its entirety. Simply put, it’s about cooking of food and what entails in it, that is, from food sourcing till it reaches your palate and all in between of that food chain.

As we become more dependent from food manufacturers, handlers, distributors and farm growers for the food we serve on our own table, the safety of our food starts from them and the other part is on us. And with the emergence of bioterrorism, agro-terrorism, food fraud, food adulteration and other food safety incidents, it exacerbated our (the consumers) confidence in food safety supply. Nevertheless, we can help maintain the food safety in this food supply chain – From Farm to Fork or better still from farm to your palate” in our own kitchen.

Again, let me pitch in some basic preguntas de cocina: What are you cooking? How are you cooking it? How did you prepare it? Where did it come from? As you have noticed, those queries are related to food materials, the process/method and the sourcing. All of them effect to preserving the integrity of the food as SAFE to consume. Whether cooking is an art or a skill, the focus on food safety must be our top priority. It’s like the substance of the art in cooking.

So, how SAFE is your food on your table? With so many holidays that are approaching (Simbang Gabi, Christmas, New Year, Fiesta, Baptism, etc.) Filipinos are into traditional feasting, leaving no space behind on the table with food-trays tucked side-by-side filled with mostly prepared dishes at their respective kitchen. During these food preparation and cooking, have you consciously done your responsibility in keeping and preserving the integrity of food to be SAFE? If you did, hats off to you. If have not, then it’s about time to do it and act accordingly. Lest we say, “Eat and be wary”. Foodborne illness is something that we do not want to have or our guest to have it. Such is a result from food spoilage of contaminated food, pathogens (bacteria), viruses or other food contaminants such as parasites. What are essentials to prevent foodborne illness but through safe steps in food handling, cooking and storage.

First, let’s look into several factors that render the food UNSAFE. We will call these factors as FOOD HAZARDS. A hazard is that which is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury to people or animal in the absence of its control. Basically, these hazards are categorized into three classes:

  • Biological – these are hazards that include harmful bacteria (pathogens), viruses and parasites. For example: E.Coli, Salmonella, Trichenella, Botulism).
  • Chemical – these are hazards that include substances or compounds that may cause injury due to direct, immediate or long-term exposure. For example: food allergens, pesticides.
  • Physical – these are hazards that include foreign matters or objects in food that when eaten can cause harm or injury. For example: Glass, wood splinter, ceramics or metal fragments.

I don’t want to be more technical in here but we all know that knowledge is better than ignorance. Hence, the knowledge of potential food hazards is important for our understanding of their causes and effects. Yes, I do take into consideration that in our own kitchen it is very impractical to develop a food safety plan, such as HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) which was developed by NASA in 1964 to ensure the safety of the food for astronauts while in space. However, we can develop our own strategies, protocols, HABITS and PRACTICES to ensure the food we cook is SAFE. Our kitchen habits are integral parts for safe food preparation within the four corners of our kitchen. The habits we developed become innate in us and become our daily recipe on how we handle our food. As one of the speakers from a food safety consortium I attended, said, “Food Safety is a Culture”.

Bacteria are everywhere. Though they sound “dangerous”, not all bacteria are harmful. Some types or specie of bacteria are needed to keep us healthy. In fact, we couldn’t survive without some of them in our body. We need bacteria to digest the food we ate. These are the “good bacteria” that we need present in our system. They are our first line of defense against harmful bacteria that can cause infection. It is these harmful bacteria that we need to prevent from getting into our body or into the food that we prepare and consume later.

If for any reason, your family decides to avoid the hullabaloo of food preparations in your own kitchen but prefer going out to a restaurant or buffet, then always make sure that the place has good reputation, sanitary clean and the food is served fresh relatively. Check the utensils for any food residue or signs that it had not been washed and sanitized thoroughly. Observe how the food attendants would handle plates, glass and their hygiene when serving food. Not all 4 or 5 stars restaurant offer such food safety guarantee.  So, be cautious and take on that magnifying glass while you are savoring your delicious dishes. “Taste is in the palate of the beholder.” As a rule of thumb, “if it doesn’t taste and smell right, the food is probably unsafe.” So, follow your gut instinct.

Therefore, the next time you prepare a dish or two at your kitchen, always remember food safety and the safety of your family. Prevention is the best medicine to food safety than reaction.  As Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Let Food Safety be part of our daily lives, 24/7. Let’s embrace it and let it be part of our culture. Happy eating and let your holiday feasts BE SAFE.

Editors’ Notes:

Fray Celso is presently employed at American Sugar Refining – Group as the Corporate Supplier Quality Engineer. His main job function is to manage Food Safety and Quality Systems of their direct material suppliers. He is a Certified Food Safety Manager by National Registry of Food Safety Professionals. He presented a topic on Food Safety Supply Chain Management at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium held in Schaumberg, IL on November 17-20, 2015. Fray Celso is also a certified “Train the Trainer” on Food Safety through Cornell University, NY. Likewise, Celso is HACCP certified through International HACCP Alliance and certified SQF (Safe Quality Food) practitioner. He had a one year stint as a classroom teacher after earning his BS Chemical Engineering degree Class of 1985 (University of San Agustin – Iloilo) and another year in a ceramic company as process technician, Celso has been working in food industries at various functions and capacities since 1987 beginning in the Philippines with Purefoods Corporation – Marikina and up until he migrated to the USA in 1991.

Celso Paguntalan

“Fray Celso” is a native of Calinog, Iloilo, Philippines. He joined the Dominicans in May 1976 belonging to the first batch of Postulants (a total of 13) who proceeded to completing A.B. Philosophy prior to vesting with the Dominican habit and acceptance to the Novitiate. He was the only “survivor” in that program who completed the Philosophy course as Class 1980 of the Philippine Dominican Center of Studies. He left the Dominican Order in November 1980. Thereafter, Celso in 1981 studied Chemical Engineering at the University of San Agustin, Iloilo, graduated Class 1985. Celso is married and they have two children. He was based in New Jersey from 1991–2011 before moving to West Palm Beach, Florida where he is currently employed at American Sugar Refining Group (ASR-Group) as Supplier Quality Engineer.

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