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Public Health Corner: Preventing foodborne illnesses during the holidays

Foodborne illness is estimated to impact 1 in 6 Americans per year, and many of these cases end up in hospitalizations and sometimes death. As we prepare for a busy season of holiday gatherings, it is important to be aware of food safety practices in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. The four steps below will help to ensure that the food you prepare and eat does not cause serious illness.

The Four Steps

1. Clean: Washing hands is essential to food safety because it prevents germs from spreading. Wash hands for a full 20 seconds before and after making food, as well as before eating food. It is also important to wash hands after touching any raw meat, eggs, or seafood. Wash all kitchen utensils with hot water and soap and always clean kitchen surfaces. Fruits and vegetables should also be washed before they are eaten. Many people rinse their chicken before preparing, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to not rinse chicken because it promotes the spread of contaminated chicken juices throughout the kitchen.

2. Separate: Separate foods to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when raw meats touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods, resulting in transmission of bacteria or viruses. Raw meat, eggs, and seafood should always be separated from other foods, such as fruits and vegetables. When preparing raw meats, eggs, and seafood, there should be cooking utensils, plates, and cutting boards designated to these foods only. Raw meat, eggs, and seafood should always be separated from other foods in the grocery cart and in the fridge.

3. Cook: Always cook food to the correct temperature. The internal temperature must be high enough to kill germs in order for the food to be considered safe. Temperature is the only accurate way to check if the food is ready, and a food thermometer must be used. The temperature guidelines differ depending on the food. Ground meats should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, whole cuts of beef and pork and most seafood should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and chicken and turkey should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Chill: Refrigerate food no later than two hours after it is made. The refrigerator should be at most 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Frozen food should always be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave and not the counter. If frozen food is being thawed in the fridge, it can be placed in cold water to speed up the process. The “Danger Zone” is the temperature range of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this range, bacteria can quickly spread through foods. This is why the refrigerator temperature should never be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and why the internal food temperature guidelines for meats are all above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do not prepare food if you are sick

Do not prepare food for others if you are ill. Avoid preparing food for others if you yourself have an illness with diarrhea or vomiting, or if you have had such an illness in the last three days. If you are experiencing any COVID-19 like symptoms, you should not take part in your holiday gatherings and isolate yourself and test.

Common Foodborne Germs and Symptoms of Foodborne Illness

Several different germs can cause illnesses from food. Norovirus and Salmonella are two of the top five from foods eaten in the United States, according to the CDC. Stomach pain, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever are all symptoms of foodborne illness that may develop anywhere between hours to days after the contaminated food was consumed. Hydration is very important with foodborne illness, so it is crucial to drink plenty of water if these symptoms are occurring.

Symptoms of Severe Foodborne Illness

Bloody diarrhea, temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, consistent vomiting, diarrhea for over three days, and signs of dehydration are symptoms of severe food poisoning. If any of these symptoms are occurring, it is time to see the doctor.

Additional Information

For more information on food safety, such as keeping food safe after a disaster, common foods that cause foodborne illness, common germs that contaminate foods, and more, visit https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/index.html or https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/index.html

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