Chinese New Year is an important festival to us. Many people will prepare festive foods with good omens and have the family reunion dinner to hope for every success in the Year of the Ox.

When purchasing festive foods and preparing the family reunion dinner, we must pay attention to the 5 Keys to Food Safety (i.e. Choose, Clean, Separate, Cook and Safe Temperature) to protect our health.

First, choose safe materials and patronise reliable shops. When stocking up on foods before Chinese New Year, purchase pre-packaged foods first and live poultry, meat and seafood last. For prepackaged foods, remember to check whether their packaging is intact and look at the expiry date. Choose melon seeds, sweetened lotus seeds and pistachio with natural colour. Do not buy melon seeds with unnatural gloss and brightly-white sweetened lotus seeds and pistachio. The former may contain mineral oils and the latter may have been bleached, causing gastrointestinal discomfort. Also, avoid buying foods from dubious sources, e.g. those sold at an unreasonably low price.

Second, keep hands and utensils clean. Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and liquid soap before handling foods and after going to toilets. All foods must be washed thoroughly. Dried seafood and groceries should be soaked in water and the water should be discarded afterward. Wash vegetables under running water for several times and then either soak them in clean water for one hour or blanch them for one minute to reduce their pesticide residues. Also, use clean utensils for handling or holding foods.

Third, separate raw and cooked foods. During Chinese New Year, we will prepare some festive foods for celebration. In order to avoid cross-contamination, use separate utensils for handling raw and cooked foods and for tasting, blending and mixing during cooking. As for storage, cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be packed properly and put on upper shelves of the refrigerator while raw food on lower shelves to prevent their juices from dripping onto ready-to-eat or cooked foods.

Fourth, cook foods thoroughly. All foods must be cooked thoroughly before consumption with the core temperature reaching at least 75 ℃ . For example, chicken, a favourite dish for many people in the family reunion dinner, should be cooked thoroughly and the juices should not be red when it is cut. As to shellfish, they should be cooked for five minutes after the shells are fully open. Discard those with shells unopened. Bring soups and stews to a boil and continue to boil for at least one minute.

Lastly, store foods at safe temperature. All cooked foods should be consumed as soon as possible and those not for immediate consumption should be kept at above 60 ℃ before serving. When reheating foods like Chinese pudding and turnip cakes, make sure that the core temperature reaches 75 ℃ . Leftovers should be put immediately into the refrigerator at 4 ℃ or below. In order to prevent bacteria from growing in large number, foods should not be kept under room temperature for more than two hours. Discard foods that perish, stink or go mouldy which may be due to prolonged or improper storage.

Remember to keep a balanced diet without overindulging in foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt. With the 5 Keys to Food Safety and sound eating habits, you can maintain good health easily!