Food safety: How to make sure your holiday treats don’t make anyone sick


Several food safety alerts and recalls this season have made it difficult to know what’s safe to eat. Even though we can’t do much personally to control those national events except to pay attention and not consume recalled products, we can take some basic food safety actions, both as a guest and as a host, so we don’t add insult to injury. Nearly 1 in 6 Americans 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 illness including viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, and foreign objects. Norovirus is the most common virus to cause food poisoning, while salmonella is the most common bacterial cause and results in more deaths than infections with other bacteria.

Are there certain foods we should avoid at gatherings?

Contaminated leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, and undercooked poultry are the main culprits for foodborne disease. But illness can come from lots of different types of foods, including raw milk, raw eggs (as in eggnog), and undercooked meat. You should wash your hands with soap and water before and after preparing, serving, or eating food, and always cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Also, be sure to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before you serve or eat them.


Foodborne illnesses usually involve diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and typically last up to a week or so. Most people recover without treatment, but some people are more likely to get seriously ill. Children younger than 5, pregnant women, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated food and having more serious illness.

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. 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. 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. Always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours before being refrigerated.

What else can we do?

If you you’re sick, take a raincheck on those holiday gatherings and call or use videochat to connect with your loved ones. One tiny drop of stool or vomit when you’re sick with norovirus is all it takes to get someone else sick.

(A Closer Look at Your Health airs most Tuesdays at around 6:50 a.m. on KBOI News Radio 670. This is a transcript of the segment from Dec. 11.) 


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