Keep Your Holiday Meal Safe This Season
Karla Robinson, MD
Over 400,000 people each year suffer from food poisoning symptoms on Thanksgiving Day. Vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea can have a relatively rapid onset, even before the family is done celebrating. The good news is that following a few simple tips can ensure that you don’t spend the Thanksgiving holiday miserable with stomach upset.
The most common cause of foodborne illness on Thanksgiving is not refrigerating the food promptly. The temperature “super danger zone” is between 70° F and 130° F where it is
estimated that bacteria can rapidly multiply as often as every 10 minutes. This year, be sure to follow the “2 hour-2 inches-4 days” rule offered by The Center for Science in the Public Interest to keep your family safe.
- Two hours: Be sure to refrigerate all leftover food within two hours. Save the family games, laughter, and TV time until AFTER all food has been put away.
- Two inches: When packaging the leftovers, don’t overstuff the food containers. Fill food containers only to a depth of two inches, to ensure that all food cools rapidly. If it is packed too tightly, the food stays in the temperature danger zone promoting bacterial growth.
- Four days: Always finish all refrigerated leftovers within three to four days. If necessary, always freeze any remaining leftovers if kept for longer than 4 days.
The most common bacteria offenders continue to be Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, and Campylobacter, which all grow at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. Therefore it is necessary to properly refrigerate all leftovers immediately. If the food is allowed to remain at temperatures of 40° F to 140° F for more than two hours, the risk increases drastically for acquiring a foodborne illness.
Be sure to follow these additional tips this holiday season, as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to decrease your risk for developing food related illness.
COOK: meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Using a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat is a good way to be sure that it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria.
For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 1600 F. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.
SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate one food with another. Avoid cross-contaminating foods by washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, rather than back on one that held the raw meat.
CHILL: Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be eaten within 2-4 hours. Large volumes of food will cool more quickly if they are divided into several shallow containers for refrigeration.
CLEAN: Wash produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime. Remove and discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or
cabbage. Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruits or vegetables, be careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them up on the cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours. Don’t be a source of foodborne illness yourself. Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food. Avoid preparing food for others if you yourself have a diarrheal illness. Changing a baby’s diaper while preparing food is a bad idea that can easily spread illness.
REPORT: Report suspected foodborne illnesses to your local health department. The
local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find our more about an illness you had, your cooperation is important. In public health investigations, it can be as important to talk to healthy people as to ill people. Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.