Holiday get-togethers mean fun, friendship, and usually, food. Enjoying festive holiday fare can be enjoyable, but food safety needs to be top of mind so you don’t end up with an unwanted gift — foodborne illness.
Without proper food safety measures, you could fall victim to a miserable bout of vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever. People with weakened immune systems, such as the very young, elderly, pregnant women, and those with certain medical conditions, are also more susceptible to serious complications such as dehydration or hospitalization. Here’s what you should know about food safety, whether you’re cooking or just partaking:
- Room temperature food should be timed and watched. Most food, especially meat, egg, and dairy products, can only be kept at room temperature for two hours — preferably less. If it’s not kept cool or hot enough, bacteria can start to grow. This means you should promptly refrigerate foods after meals, and don’t leave food sitting out for grazing for more than two hours. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Never thaw meat at room temperature — only thaw in the refrigerator.
- Use a meat thermometer to check safe temperatures when cooking. Poultry and casseroles should be cooked to a minimum of 165 degrees, while beef, pork, ham, and fish should reach 145 degrees. Stick the thermometer in the middle of the food to take the temperature (middle of the thigh for turkey and chicken).
- Clean up after raw meats and eggs. If you handled or cut some raw meat on counters, cutting boards, or other surfaces, keep other foods like breads, fruits, and vegetables off that area until you have thoroughly cleaned it with a bleach solution or hot water and soap. Wash your hands after handling any raw foods too. Foods like these can harbor dangerous germs like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria if not cooked. It’s also not safe to use raw eggs in food, so look for pasteurized eggs or egg products that are listed as safe to consume without cooking.
- Ask guests to wash hands before eating if you can. In addition, anyone who has been sick recently with stomach problems should not cook or prepare food.
Because this is also the season for gastroenteritis (commonly known as stomach flu), skip the get-togethers if you’ve been sick. The illness is highly contagious and can be spread to others even after you’re feeling better.
With a few precautions and attention to proper temperatures and cleaning, you can help avoid foodborne illnesses this holiday season.
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Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.