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Spread cheer, not food poisoning, at your holiday dinners

Spread cheer, not food poisoning, at your holiday dinners

Nov. 27, 2019

By Kenzie Bostick

It’s the time of year when people gather with their friends and families for holiday meals.
With all of the holiday excitement and large amounts of food to cook, it can be hard to keep track of all of the tricks to cooking safely. Following these tips can ensure that you don’t spend your holiday season with an avoidable illness.

The turkey is often the main event of holiday dinners, and it must be prepared very carefully. Never leave your turkey out on the counter to thaw. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you always use the refrigerator, a sink of cold water or the microwave. 

The general rule is that it takes 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the fridge. This method is best for turkeys that will not be cooked immediately. Turkeys thawed in the refrigerator can be safely stored there for one to two days before cooking. In cold water, it takes 30 minutes per pound, and the water should be changed every 30 minutes.

The turkey should also be in a leak-proof bag to prevent the turkey from absorbing water. The time it takes to thaw a turkey in the microwave depends on the microwave manufacturer’s instructions, but it should be cooked immediately after thawing.

Cooking carefully can help prevent food poisoning, an illness caused when food has been contaminated with germs such as norovirus, salmonella or staphylococcus aureus, better known as staph. Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

However, symptoms can differ based on the germ you encountered. Symptoms usually appear within 30 minutes to six hours after eating contaminated food. You should see a doctor if your symptoms last more than three days, you have a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, are vomiting frequently or are dehydrated.

According to the CDC, certain people are more prone to food poisoning than others. Adults who are 65 or older, children under 5 years old, people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or HIV, and pregnant women have increased odds. This is because these people have weakened immune systems.

Pregnant women in particular must be extra careful during the holiday season. They should avoid products made with raw or unpasteurized milk, such as soft cheeses. Refrigerated seafood should also be avoided, as well as eggnog, unless it has been confirmed that there is no alcohol in it.

The most commonly known culprit of food poisoning is undercooked or raw meat. Meat should not be washed before cooking. Large pieces of meat should be cut into smaller pieces before storing so they chill quickly and prevent bacteria growth. The best ways to tell if your meat is safe to eat is by checking the color, its juices and its internal temperature.

Dairy products can also leave you feeling ill. Raw milk and products made with it, such as cheese and ice cream, can carry illness causing bacteria. Other sources of foodborne illness include raw or undercooked eggs, fish, shellfish, flour and sprouts. Many popular holiday recipes contain raw eggs, such as eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing; instead of using raw eggs, use pasteurized eggs.

Food safety can sound complicated, but it comes down to four simple steps: clean, separate, cook and chill. You should clean your hands and kitchen surfaces often, and rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing them.

​Separate cooking surfaces should be used for raw meat, poultry and seafood, as well as separate storage in the fridge. Ensure that all food is cooked to safe temperatures to kill the germs. Leftovers should be kept below 40 degrees F, and all foods should be refrigerated within two hours.

If you follow these rules, it will go a long way to making your holidays healthy and happy.
Happy holidays!

Kenzie Bostick is an intern in the public information office at Monongalia County Health Department.

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