Be safe with snacks to keep hosts and guests healthy

Practice good hand hygiene to help prevent getting the flu, a cold or Norovirus at holiday events and parties.

It is that time of year when we find ourselves gathering around food - basically, where there is food, we will gather. Our hands touch so many things: door handles, furniture, gas pumps, multiple surfaces and of course, other people’s hands. This makes it very easy for diseases to be transmitted by hand contact. We all know to always wash our hands before eating, but we don’t always think about washing our hands after doing other things like sneezing, rubbing eyes, scratching noses or petting our devoted pet. Not to mention other actions that I will leave to your imagination. All of these actions can transfer pathogens and make ourselves or others ill.  Because hand washing is so often associated with dirty hands, people forget that just because hands may look clean it doesn’t mean they are safe to eat with since the pathogens that can cause illness cannot be seen.

When hosting an event, feeding preschoolers or just getting together with friends, it is important to know how to protect both the food and the consumer. All the food safety planning in the world will not prevent an illness if unclean hands are involved, especially if finger food is being served. If you are offering finger food at your event make sure to provide methods to allow no bare-hand contact with any food items on your platters or bowls. This means providing toothpicks, tongs, forks, spoons and spatulas to help hungry individuals enjoy your delicious food without using their fingers to touch it directly.  

On the other side of this snacking dilemma is the consumer. A host can choose to provide silverware but as a guest you can only work with what’s available. Regardless of the precautions you may take, the consumer could be in trouble, especially given how much we love our finger food! Sandwiches, appetizers, French fries, cookies, pizza, candy, nuts, chips and the list goes on. Sometimes these bite–size, tiny foods are all that are available at gatherings. Without silverware or protective wrappings, it is very difficult to eat such foods without direct contact so it is useful to have some strategies in mind for these situations, especially during cold, flu and Norovirus season.

  • The first step is to wash hands before eating. Correct handwashing is one of the key steps in preventing foodborne illness, and the other illnesses previously mentioned.
  • If possible, hold the food in some kind of protective wrapper (deli wrap or a napkin will work).
  • Utilize toothpicks and other skewers available for consuming food.
  • Look for individually packaged portions that others haven’t “dipped” into.
  • Don’t double dip! One scoop per chip or produce piece.
  • Remember to wash your hands after eating too as bacteria loves carbs and protein in addition to warm environments, like the surface of your hands.

Michigan State University Extension recommends you remember that pathogens cannot usually be seen, smelt or tasted. This is why it is so important to practice good personal hygiene before, during and after food preparation and consumption. The five-second rule does not apply; bacteria will multiply and cause illness if the proper conditions are present. Be aware; make sure you are finding places to wash prior to eating. Look for napkins, deli paper and food picks to serve as barriers when possible. Do what you can to keep yourself and others healthy during this busy season so you can enjoy your snacks.

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