Even something as ominous sounding as “The Year of the Tiger” should be celebrated safely.

The year of Geng Yin, the formal name for the Lunar New Year that begins on Sunday, is the 11th year in the current 60-year cycle of the “Stem-Branch” system.  It is also known as year 4707 in the Chinese calendar.

year-of-tiger-featured.jpgBefore the Chinese New Year, people who plan to celebrate buy festive food for the holiday.  Steamed puddings, fried dumplings, sweetened fruits and vegetables, glutinous rice balls, seeds, dried vegetables, dried soybean products, dried aquatic products, and Chinese preserved meat are the typical fare.

The Center for Food Safety, a unit of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, this year tested 239 samples of food typically used to celebrate the holiday.

Both microbiological and chemical tests were conducted.  Microbiological tests were used to track total bacterial counts for Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus and other food poisoning organisms.

Chemical tests are used to detect preservatives, coloring matters like dyes, antioxidants, metallic contamination, and toxins.

Results for all the Chinese New Year’s foods were all satisfactory.

The Center for Food Safety offered this advice for consumers:

  • Purchase foods from reliable shops.
  • Buy only pre-packaged foods with the packaging intact, and be sure to check expiration dates.
  • Avoid Lunar New Year food with abnormally intensified color.
  • Raw and cooked foods should be stored separately to avoid cross contamination.
  • Avoid eating too much high energy, sugar, fat, and/or cholesterol.

“Many people would like to enjoy festive foods with their family members and friends in the Chinese New Year,” the Center for Food Safety’s “Five Tips for Safe Eating in the Chinese New Year” says.  “Melon seeds, crispy triangles, sweetened snacks and turnip cakes are some good choices.” It goes on to advise:

When buying Chinese New Year Foods and preparing family reunion dinner, we must pay attention to the Five Keys to Food Safety (i.e. choose, clean, separate, cook, and safe temperature) to safeguard our health.

First, choose safe materials and patronize reliable shops with good hygiene conditions when purchasing foods. For prepackaged foods like festive cakes, remember to check whether their packaging is intact and look at the expiry date. For non-packaged food products like crispy triangles, sweetened snacks and melon seeds, pay extra attention to the hygiene conditions of the shops and the food containers and the staff personal hygiene. Choose food products with natural color. Brightly white sweetened lotus seeds and pistachios may have been bleached, while melon seeds with unnatural gloss may have been added with mineral oil and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. When buying Lap-mei, make sure that it is naturally pinkish with dry surface and firm, shiny cross-section.

Second, keep hands and utensils clean. Wash hands thoroughly with running water and liquid soap for 20 seconds before handling foods and after going to toilets. All foods must be washed thoroughly. Dried seafood and groceries should be soaked in water before cooking. Wash vegetables and then either soak them in clean water for one hour or blanch them for one minute to reduce pesticide residues. Also, use clean utensils for handling or holding foods.

Third, separate raw and cooked foods. People usually stock up on foods for Chinese New Year. To ensure separation of raw and cooked foods, purchase pre-packaged or canned foods first and live poultry, meat and seafood last and store them separately. To avoid cross-contamination, use separate utensils and cutting boards for handling raw foods and cooked or ready-to-eat foods like Chinese pudding. As for storage, cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be packed properly and put into upper shelves of the refrigerator while raw foods into lower shelves to prevent their juices from dripping onto cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

Fourth, cook foods thoroughly. Foods must be cooked thoroughly before consumption with the core temperature reaching at least 75 degrees Centigrade. Chicken and seafood are popular dishes for family reunion dinner. Make sure that the chicken is cooked thoroughly and the juices are not red when it is cut. As to shellfish, they should be cooked for three to 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 a safe temperature. All cooked foods should be consumed as soon as possible and those not for immediate consumption should be kept at above 60 degrees before serving. When reheating foods like Chinese pudding and turnip cakes, make sure that the core temperature reaches at least 75 degrees C. To prevent bacteria from growing in large numbers, leftovers should be put into a refrigerator within two hours to keep them at 4 degrees C or below. Leftovers should not be stored in a refrigerator for more than three days and reheated for more than one time. Discard foods that perish, stink or go moldy due to possible prolonged or improper storage.

May you have a happy and prosperous Year of the Tiger!