Choosing and handling Chinese New Year foods and snacks
While purchasing or preparing new year foods, purchase them from reputable retail outlets. Buy sweetened lotus seeds and pistachio with natural colour and avoid those looking extraordinarily white because they may have been bleached with chemicals. Avoid buying melon seeds that are too glossy as they may contain mineral oil, which may cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
You should check the expiry date before buying any prepackaged festive items like puddings, sesame balls and sweets, and make sure the packaging is intact. Note the hygienic condition of the shop and the food containers and the hygiene practices of the staff, when buying unpackaged items like crispy triangles, sweetened dried fruits and melon seeds.
After purchase, pre-cooked foods like puddings should be stored in the refrigerator as soon as possible and be consumed before the “use by” date shown on the package. Fried festive foods such as sesame balls and crispy triangles should be kept in air-tight containers and stored in the refrigerator or in a cool, dry place.
Melon seeds and nuts are often served during the Chines Year. However, these foods contain hard hulls. Cracking melon seeds and nuts with your own teeth can result in tooth damage. Use a seed or nut cracker instead. Nut are also often used in making Chinese New Year foods. Should you be allergic to nuts or have other food allergy , read food allergen information on food labels to identify if any food or food ingredients of your allergic concern are present in the food. Avoid the food or food ingredients which you are allergic to.
Keep poon choi at safe temperatures
Chinese New Year is a great time of year to have ‘winter warmers’ such as poon choi when we host large gatherings. These dishes are often prepared through bulk cooking ahead of time, due to the large number of portions required. Poon choi contains various food ingredients and requires complicated and long preparation procedures such as cutting, marinating, precooking and cooling and finally re-heating. If the food is left at room temperature for too long after precooking, foodborne pathogens can multiply and some can even produce heat-stable toxins which are not readily eliminable by reheating.
Therefore, it is important to store food properly by storing precooked ingredients at 4°C or below to prevent the formation of toxins, cool down the precooked ingredients by dividing into small portions, placing in shallow containers or placing in ice bath. Reheating foods thoroughly to the core temperature of at least 75°C or above. Keep hot food above 60°C if it is not consumed immediately. Do not leave reheated food at room temperature for long, and discard it if held at room temperature for more than four hours. Of note, heat from the heat source may not be evenly distributed in a large poon choi during reheating, therefore requiring more time to bring poon choi to a boil before eating.
Safe handling of leftovers
Large holiday meals could leave you with leftovers, such as rice cake and puddings, to dig in for days. For the sake of food safety, all perishables should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked or cooled, and discard items that have been left out for longer than four hours. To minimise spoilage, leftovers should be kept in clean and airtight containers, and refrigerated within two hours of finishing preparation. All leftovers should be reheated thoroughly with the core temperature of food reaching at least 75°C, and they should only be reheated once. Take note of the expiry dates of the food items before consumption. Food beyond its “use by” date should be discarded while be wary of the quality of food beyond the “best before” date.
Stop eating and discard puddings or other food that are found mouldy or with an abnormal taste. Abnormal taste indicates that the puddings have perished due to improper or prolonged storage. Remember, a “sniff test” is not an appropriate method for testing if food is safe to eat, as food can look and smell fine even after the “use by” date has passed. Any leftovers that have been kept in the refrigerator for more than three days should be disposed.