Food makes the holidays more festive. At this time of year you enjoy family dinners, church potlucks, office parties, buffet lunches, cookie exchanges, and cups of cheer. Gifts are exchanged, too, and food poisoning is the “gift” you don’t want.
Though it’s relatively rare in the US, food poisoning can happen to anyone, according to MedlinePlus. That doesn’t mean much if you’re the one who gets it. You may get food poisoning at home or while traveling. Each year 60-80 million (that’s MILLION) people around the globe get food poisoning.
If you’ve had food poisoning you know it’s awful, so awful you thought you were going to die. Some people do die. The FDA says food poisoning is especially threatening to kids five years old and younger, and the elderly. E.coli can cause hemolyptic uremic syndrome, which can lead to kidney damage and, in some cases, death.
The symptoms of food poisoning are nasty: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and weakness. Food poisoning strikes within two-to-four hours after eating contaminated food and it can last as long as 10 days. Prevetion is the best defense against food poisoning.
Mayo Clinic, in an Internet article called “Serve it Up Safe: 8 Ways to Prevent Food-Bourne Illness,” lists some prevention tips, such as washing linens often and washing equipment, including your meat thermometer, in hot, soapy water. To be in the safe side, the article says you should reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Practice safe food handling during the holidays. Unsure about what to do? The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service has published a colorful booklet called “Cooking for Groups.” You’ll find the booklet on www.FoodSafety.gov. You’ll find additional information on www.fightingbac.org. And follow these tips to keep your tummy safe during the holidays.
1. Wash your hands well before handling food.
2. Use paper or cloth dishcloths, not sponges.
4. Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods.
5. Store washed produce in a different container, not the original.
6. Keep cold foods at 40 degrees or less.
7. Keep hot foods at 140 degrees or more.
8. Double-bag leaking meat and poultry packages or seal them in plastic wrap.
9. Thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
10. NEVER eat frozen meat, poultry or fish that has been thawed and refrozen.
11. Check internal temperature of meat and poultry with a thermometer.
12. Use a clean spoon every time you taste food.
13. Clear leftover food quickly and refrigerate.
1. Ask a knowledgable person to be in charge.
2. Refrigerate donated food immediately.
3. Wash hands before handling food. (Buy several bottles of hand sanitizer.)
4. Label foods so people know what they’re eating.
5. Tell people if food contains nuts or soy.
6. Serve food in small batches, not all at once.
7. Keep mayonnaise-based foods icy cold.
8. Keep hot foods really hot.
9. Don’t leave food out for more than two hours.
10. Provide clean storage containers for leftovers. Write the food and date on all containers.
11. Discard food that hasn’t been refrigerated for more than four hours.
AT A RESTAURANT
1. Check to see if food handlers are wearing plastic gloves.
2. Find out if the food handlers are handling money. (Money is often contaiminaed with human feces.)
3. Is there a cough shield over the food table?
4. Skip the salad bar if the ingredients aren’t on ice.
5. Check to see if the restaurant has a clean plate policy for additional servings of salad.
6. Don’t eat salad dressing that’s in open bowls on the table.
7. Make sure hot food is kept in warming pans, kettles, and hot plates.
8. Each dish should have its own serving spoon or fork.
9. Servers should bring buffet foods out in small batches.
10. Does the menu say all beef will be cooked to medium temperature?
11. Hamburgers should be cooked until the internal temperature is 160 degrees.
12. Write the food and date on your doggie bag/box.
“Everyone is at risk for foodbourne illness,” according to the FDA’s Food Safety Education Website. That makes food safety your business. Call the local public health department if you see unsafe food practices. And follow the FDA’s advice during the holidays: When in doubt throw it out!
Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson. To learn more about her work go to http://www.harriethodgson.com/.
Harriet Hodgson has been a nonfiction writer for 27 years and is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Before she became a health writer she was a food writer for the former “Rochester Magazine,” in her hometown of Rochester, MN. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from http://www.amazon.com. A five-star review of the book is also posted on Amazon. The book is packed with Healing Steps – 114 in all – that lead readers to their own healing path.
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