Food safety for the holidays

  • Published
  • By Public Health Flight
  • 55th Medical Group
Parties, family dinners and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer, but the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of food borne illness are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms often occur a few hours or a few days after consuming contaminated food or drinks. The symptoms usually aren't long-lasting and go away without treatment. However, food borne illness can be severe and even life threatening to older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, people who have contracted the Human immunodeficiency virus, cancer or any condition that weakens the immune system.

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites and other contaminants can be difficult to control in your home. Public health officials recommend four basic food safety measures that can help prevent food borne illness:

1. Clean: Wash and sanitize everything that comes in contact with raw meats and poultry including juices. Pay special attention to utensils, cutting boards and counter tops. Wash your hands and clean surfaces frequently.

2. Separate: Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from cooked foods. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and another for foods that are ready to eat. Don't put cooked meat on an unwashed plate that has held raw meat.

3. Cook: Cook foods thoroughly. Color is not a reliable indicator of food being cooked. Use a food thermometer to ensure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for proper temperature, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh, wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If your bird is stuffed you will need to allow for a longer cooking time. Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products or powdered egg whites. Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, as it may contain raw eggs.

4. Chill: Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Set your refrigerator no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. If you are using running cold water, allow 30 minutes of thawing per pound until completely thawed. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.

For more information, contact the Public Health Flight at 232-7478.