By Emily McClure

 

The holidays are coming with all the pleasures and happiness they bring. Holidays are a time where we sit together with friends and family and enjoy delicious food with people we care about. But what if there was another visitor that joined our meals we did not invite? A visitor that made us sick?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick from foodborne illness each year in the United States. Other numbers show that 128,000 are hospitalized and there are 3,000 deaths related to foodborne illness. These are scary numbers considering most could be avoided with proper food handling and sanitation.

When I am working with children, the first thing we always do when we start to prepare a snack is to wash our hands. Proper handwashing can save lives. This might sound extreme to a young healthy person, but think about who you are serving your meals to. Are there members of your family who are part of the YOPI population? YOPI stands for young (less than 5 years old), old, pregnant or immune compromised. This population is more susceptible to foodborne illness due to decreased immune function.

Do not assume just because you feel fine that there are not germs lurking on your hands waiting to infect a loved one. So rule number one in food safety is to always wash your hands before and during meal prep.

Another way to prevent foodborne illness during the holidays is to make sure there is no cross contamination. Cross contamination is when one contaminated food comes in contact with another food. For example, you are making a roast and it is placed raw on a plate. Once seasoned and put in the oven, you then place the empty plate in the sink. You know you need to wash your hands after touching meat so you wash your hands then grab the salad mix. You rinse your salad in a colander over the plate you had the meat on and the water splashes up into your salad. Your salad is now contaminated with anything that might have been on the roast. Thankfully cooking the roast will kill any foodborne illness, however your salad is going to be served as is, therefore introducing pathogens to family members.

Next in preventing illness during the holidays is food temperatures. It is impossible to tell the temperature of meat without using a food thermometer. Every kitchen needs one. Not only does this help ensure your food is the correct temperature for safety, it also helps from over cooking your food. In our situation, the roast needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. The food thermometer needs to be inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

The last part of food safety for the holidays is to immediately refrigerate your food after it is done being served. Bacteria loves to grow at room temperature or between the temperatures of 41-135 degrees F.

Foods should not be left out longer than two hours. If a food has been forgotten and left out longer, it is recommended to throw it away.

Hopefully everyone will follow these food safety guidelines for their holiday meals and will help prevent someone from getting sick. We all just want to have a safe and happy holiday season!

If you have any other questions about food safety during the holidays or general food safety questions, please contact the Cooperative Extension at 586-4009. You can also find information at CDC.gov or foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu and look on the side tab for “food safety at home.”

Emily McClure is a registered dietitian, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, Jackson County Extension. Email her at ekmcclure@ncat.edu.