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Remember this 2-hour rule when prepping noche buena

by Malou Talosig-Bartolome

TWO weeks to go before Christmas eve of 2022. Have you already prepared the menu for noche buena?

Foremost in our minds is to feed noche buena meals that get a seal of gastronomic approval among our families and friends. Food quality experts remind us to be equally mindful that they are all safe. 

Republicasia spoke with Elsie Gatpayat, a microbiologist and managing director for the Food Safety & Hygiene Academy of the Philippines. 

High-risk food

Gatpayat reminded mothers or family-designated cooks to note that they are cooking more than usual. The usual food items on the Filipino table during noche buena, such as spaghetti, pancit, lumpiang shanghai, fruit salad, macaroni salad, etc, are considered “high risk” or those which get easily spoiled.

Spaghetti favorite of kids, favorite of bacteria, too

The high-risk foods are generally:

  1. Food high in protein — beef, chicken, pork, fish
  2. Carbohydrates – pasta, rice, noodles
  3. Dishes with sauce
  4. Dairy – cheese, milk, including gata or coconut milk

Cook food well

The first rule is to cook food well. Yeah, it’s pretty elementary, you may say.

“Dahil marami kang niluluto ngayon, pampamilya, panghandaan, you might not notice you are cooking it well. Lagi nagmamadali. O kaya di mo rin nakikita like sa spaghetti, di napapansin kasi kasi sa kulay ng sauce,” she cited.

Follow the 2-hour rule

The other rule of thumb for safe eating is to consume the food within two hours after they are cooked.

This two-hour rule could not be strictly applied during holidays since many dishes are being prepared as early in the morning. So Gatpayat recommended bringing the dishes to the refrigerator after it has achieved room temperature.

“Kung marami kang niluluto, at pinabayaan mo yan sa mesa, mapapansin mo na iba na ang amoy especially if it’s not in the right temperature,” she said. “Huwag mo idisplay lahat. Pwede palamigin muna ang iba and keep it refrigerated,”

Bacteria start to grow on food from 5 degrees to 60 degrees Celsius. The refrigerator temperature should be 0 – 5 degrees Celsius.

When it’s time to eat, take out only food that will be eaten and reheat.

“Hindi rin namin recommended na reheat lang nang reheat. Once lang dapat i-reheat ang food,” she quipped.

The temperature to reheat food should be 74 degrees Celsius or higher. No food thermometer? “Tignan mo kung talagang kumulo, hindi lang yung tinanggal ang lamig.”

When ordering food

There are of course, those who don’t cook and prefer to order from their favorite restaurants or cloud kitchens. Here are the tips of Gatpayat for you:

  1. Ask for the food courier to use an insulated bag.
  2. Schedule your delivery early, as they will be swamped with orders. But instruct the food provider to cook within 2 hours before the delivery time. 
  3. If you will not eat the food right away, take out the top of the food container to let off steam. “If you keep the steam inside, dadami tubig sa loob. Bacteria thrive in moist environments. In 4 to 6 hours, dadami rin ang bacteria. Mapapanis,” she said.

For ‘Sharonians’

Lastly, what is a typical Filipino noche buena without pabaon? Yes, it is still safe to bring leftover food. But…

Friend lumpia paborito ng mga Sharonians

“Sa mga Sharonians, wag magtakeout ng mga delikado – mga masabaw, magatas. At kung talagang masarap yung niluto halimbawa lumpia, huwag yung galing tray. At pagdating sa bahay, ire-heat nang maayos. Hindi yung pinatay lang ang lamig.”

That’s it, pancit. Eat all you can, “Sharonians.” And have a happy and harmful bacteria-free holiday season.



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