With all the hustle and bustle surrounding this most culinary-focused of holidays, accidents do happen. So what poses the greatest threat to all those celebrating with friends and family – car accidents? Kitchen fires? Inebriated guests? Nope, the top threat to your well-being next Thursday is germs. The day is laden with opportunities for mis-handled food, and many will suffer the consequences.
Common symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed. For healthy individuals, the symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people, few hours to a few days, and do not require medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:
- older adults
- infants and young children
- pregnant women
- people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system
- people who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis
The Food and Drug Administration advises that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness:
The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. "Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops," says Davidson.
Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination). Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF – do not rely on color!
Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating. 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, which may contain raw eggs.
Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie!
Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
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