Food safety important during holidays and every day

December 12, 2011

The holiday season means time for gathering with family and friends, often with a cornucopia of food.

But with this abundance comes an increase in the risk for foodborne illness. And it can occur at any time, not just the holidays. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans (48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illness.

Typical symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

“Everyone should avoid eating perishable foods that are not either kept cold or hot,” says Jessica Anderson, RD, LD, diabetes educator at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi. “Pregnant women, older adults and persons with weakened immune systems stand a greater chance of getting sick and suffering complications from foodborne illness.”

To combat foodborne illness, Anderson offers the following tips:

  • Do not buy fresh stuffed turkeys. Always purchase frozen stuffed items and cook frozen. Do not cook turkey slowly at low temperatures (cook around 325°F).
  • Do not thaw meats at room temperature but in the refrigerator.
  • Internal temperatures for meats are 165°F for poultry; 160°F for pork, roasts and chops; and 145°F for whole cuts of beef, veal and lamb. Check different parts of the meat to ensure it’s heated throughout.
  • Wash hands before and during food preparation, and clean hands when handling raw foods before handling other foods. Utensils and plates should be cleaned if in contact with raw meat juices to prevent cross contamination. Wash all produce thoroughly.
  • Foods left out should be warmed in a slow cooker or chafing dish above 140°F. Cold foods need to stay at 40°F or below.
  • Leftovers should be cooled properly before refrigerating, and use shallow containers to separate foods. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

“Plain and simple, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot,” Anderson says.

— Marketing & Communications