With the holiday season quickly approaching, the state’s Department of Public Health (IDPH) is underscoring the importance of observing food safety practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 48 million people a year get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D., said, “By taking a few simple precautions, you can help protect yourself and those around you from an unhappy holiday.”
To make sure foodborne illness is not on the menu, adhere to the four food safety steps.
- Clean - wash hands, cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops before and after preparing each food item.
- Separate - keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that will not be cooked.
- Cook - use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are fully cooked. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Chill - divide leftovers into shallow containers and refrigerate them within two hours. Use leftovers within three to four days.
Though “grazing” is always popular during the holidays, bacteria multiply when perishable food sits at room temperature. This range, between 40-140°F, is known as the ‘danger zone.’ A good rule of thumb is to make sure hot foods are hot (above 140°F) and cold foods are cold (below 40°F). Any foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded.
Raw poultry should be handled carefully and cooked thoroughly to prevent food poisoning. Raw poultry can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and advance sickness. When preparing holiday meals be sure to follow these turkey-specific recommendations:
- Do not thaw at room temperature. Instead thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter. Allow approximately 24 hours for each four to five pounds of turkey when thawed in the refrigerator.
- Do not rinse or wash your turkey, which can spread bacteria around the kitchen, contaminating countertops, towels, and other food.
Typical symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after consuming contaminated food or drinks. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
Those at risk of more severe and even life-threatening foodborne illness include older adults, infants, young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. Those who become ill, especially with severe symptoms, or those who are at risk for more severe disease, should seek care from a medical provider to ensure a proper diagnosis and appropriate management.