Food Safety Tips for the Holidays
by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center
Holidays can be a time for family, food, and fun. While getting together for the holidays can be enjoyable, the food may be contaminated and friends and family may become ill. The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, but organisms that you cannot see, smell, or taste (bacteria, viruses, and tiny parasites) are everywhere in the environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States can be traced to foodborne pathogens every year.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates two to three percent of foodborne illnesses lead to serious, secondary long-term illnesses. Unfortunately, the nonprofit Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) has reported that zero risk of microbiological hazards is not possible and no method will eliminate all pathogens or toxins from the food chain (“Food Safety and Fresh Produce: An Update,” 2009).
Despite progress improving the quality and safety of foods, any raw agricultural product can be contaminated. Bacteria may survive, despite aggressive controls at the processing level, or the food may become contaminated somewhere along the way during transport, preparation, cooking, serving, and storage.
For these reasons, food safety and public health officials agree that along with aggressive efforts to identify, access, and control microbiological hazards associated with each segment of the food production system, teaching everyone about safe food handling is a priority. Consumers have an important role to play in reducing their risk of foodborne illness.
Here are some tips to follow to help you avoid foodborne illnesses.
Keep it clean. Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating, or handling food. Also, wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching pets. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel—so dirt and germs on the surface do not get inside when you cut into the food.
Cook it well. Cooking food to the proper temperature gets rid of harmful germs. Use a food thermometer to check for the proper temperature of the meat you are cooking. Make sure chicken wings (and any other poultry) reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F and that ground beef items reach 160°F. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Follow frozen food package cooking directions when cooking in microwave.
Keep it safe. If preparing food in advance, divide cooked food into shallow containers and store in a refrigerator or freezer until the party begins. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Keep hot foods at 140°F or warmer. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table. Cold foods should be kept at 40°F or colder. Use small service trays or nest serving dishes in bowls of ice. It is okay to refreeze meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator before or after cooking. If thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing. If you are getting takeout or having food delivered, make sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods like veggies when preparing, serving, or storing foods. Make sure to use separate cutting boards, plates, and knives for produce and for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Marinate meat and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Place cooked food on a clean plate. Do not use a plate that had raw or uncooked food on it—especially raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Offer guests serving utensils and small plates to discourage them from eating directly from the bowls with dips and salsa.
Store and reheat leftovers the right way. Divide leftovers into smaller portions or pieces, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze. Refrigerate leftover foods at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation or one hour when the temperature is above 90°F. It is okay to put hot foods directly into the refrigerator. Refrigerate leftovers for three to four days at most. Freeze leftovers if you will not be eating them soon. Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below. Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within two days; beef, veal, lamb, or pork, within three to five days.
Wrap perishable food such as meat and poultry securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food. To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap.
Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they have not been exposed to freezing temperatures, or temperatures above 90°F. Discard cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen. High-acid canned food (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months; low acid canned food (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.
Thawing. The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food. For faster thawing, place food in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook immediately after thawing. Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
Food poisoning. Some signs of food poisoning include upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
Signs of food poisoning can start hours, days, or even weeks after eating bad food. Usually the effects only last for one or two days, but they can last up to two weeks.
The treatment for most cases of food poisoning is to drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. For a more serious illness, you may need treatment at a hospital. Get medical help right away, if you have a fever higher than 101.5°F. Also, seek medical attention if you have blood in your vomit or in your stool; and you are throwing up many times a day for more than two days, if you can’t drink or keep down any liquids for 24 hours, have a very dry mouth, are peeing much less than usual, are feeling very weak, dizzy, or lightheaded and if you have diarrhea that lasts more than three days.
Anyone can get sick from eating bad food. However, food poisoning is a serious health risk for some people. Higher risk categories include pregnant women, babies, young children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions (including AIDS, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and cancer).
You cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness. In every step of food preparation, follow these four steps of the Food Safe Families campaign to keep food safe: (1) Clean: Wash your hands and the surfaces food is prepared on often; (2) Separate: Keep meat and vegetables separate, so you do not cross-contaminate; (3) Cook: Cook food to the right temperature according to the meat thermometer; (4) Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.
Dr. Lo wishes you a happy and healthy holiday. If you are interested in a free consultation, contact the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.