Holiday parties will offer a tempting array of goodies this winter, but it’s important to remember the basic food safety rules, both as a guest and as a host. Nearly 1 in 6 Americans (or about 48 million) get sick each year from contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reducing that number by just 10 percent would keep nearly 5 million people from getting sick each year.
What is the most common cause of food poisoning?
There are more than 250 agents that can cause foodborne disease including viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, and foreign objects. Norovirus is the most common virus to cause food poisoning, while Salmonella is the most common and deadliest bacterial cause. E. coli, campylobacter, shigella, and listeria are also fairly common causes.
Are there certain foods we should avoid at gatherings?
Contaminated leafy greens, such as spinach, and undercooked poultry are the main culprits for foodborne disease. But illness can come from lots of different types of foods, including contaminated pepper, raw milk and undercooked meat. Generally, you should wash your hands with soap and water before and after preparing or eating food, and be sure to cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Also, be sure to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before you serve or eat them.
Gastroenteritis illnesses involve diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and typically last about a week or so. Most people recover without antibiotics, but some people are more likely to get seriously ill. Children younger than 5, pregnant women, adults older than 65, and people with weak immune systems have a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated food, and with possibly more serious outcomes.
Are there things we can do while preparing food to reduce the risk of contamination?
The four steps to food safety are Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill when preparing food. So, you should:
- Wash your hands and make sure your cutting boards, utensils, and countertops are clean before preparing food.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods. Don’t use the same cutting boards for raw meat and fresh produce.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb and pork, including roasts, chops and steaks. You should let the meat rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating it. 160°F is the safe temperature for ground beef, veal, lamb and pork, and for all poultry, the safe temperature is 165°F.
- Set your refrigerator at or below 40°F.
- If you’re sick and vomiting or have diarrhea, don’t prepare food for others.
- Keep food out of the danger zone: Always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Food should not sit out for more than two hours at a time.
- And please – don’t double dip!
(Note: A Closer Look at Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from Dec. 13.)