Happy Season of Eating! Tips to avoid getting sick at your holiday gatherings

Thanksgiving starts what I like to think of as the season of eating — holiday parties with family, co-workers, and friends offer all kinds of treats! As we’re hosting and attending parties, however, it’s important to remember the basic food safety rules, both as a guest and as a host.

What is the most common cause of food poisoning?

There are more than 250 things that can cause foodborne disease, including viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, and things in your food that isn’t supposed to be there. 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 common causes.

Are some people at higher risk of food poisoning?

Yes! Pregnant women should avoid raw cheese because it can contain Listeria. People with suppressed immune systems need to be especially careful to avoid undercooked meats. But nobody’s risk is zero, which is why proper food handling is so important.

How long does it take to recover if you do get sick from a foodborne disease?

Norovirus illness may last a day or two. Other gastroenteritis illnesses involve diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps that typically last about a week or so. Most people recover without getting medicine from a doctor, 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. So, you should:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after preparing or eating food.
  • Make sure your cutting boards, utensils, and countertops are clean before using them.
  • 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.
  • Be sure to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before you serve or eat them.
  • 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.
  • The goal is to always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Food should not sit out for more than two hours at a time.
  • And don’t double dip!

(Note: A Closer Look AT Your Health airs most Tuesdays at 6:45 a.m. on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from Nov. 26.) 

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