| By Jamie Stolarz |
Staphylococcus aureus. Campylobacter. Shigella.
These foodborne illnesses sound like dinosaur names or constellations in the sky. They seem far off – but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illness each year.
That’s every sixth seat around your Thanksgiving table.
Talking about food safety isn’t the most fun part of the holiday season. But it’s definitely better to take precautions than to find yourself stuck in the bathroom instead of enjoying family time.
What’s a foodborne illness (aka food poisoning) like? Well, depending on the type, symptoms can include severe (maybe bloody) diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and vomiting.
Something that most people don’t know is that the symptoms may take days to show; this makes it hard to pair with the real cause. And once the symptoms come, they can last for days or even a week. Plus, food poisoning is contagious in that it can be passed to other individuals if hands aren’t washed properly.
So what can we do to prevent foodborne illness? With the biggest food holidays of the year coming up, here are 5 tips to get you started:
- Wash those hands. Wash, wash, wash. Wash before you cook, wash after you touch raw meat, wash before you eat dinner. You can never wash your hands too much. When in doubt, wash it out.
- Defrost carefully. Defrost the turkey in the fridge or microwave – not on the countertop or in the sink. The reason: The longer food is left in the 40-140°F range (aka the danger zone), the faster bacteria grows and multiplies. In the refrigerator, the food is kept under 40°F. In the oven, it quickly passes through the danger zone.
- Take the temp. Thermometers aren’t only for fevers. Food thermometers are a great way to ensure your food is the proper temperature – a temperature that can kill most of those pathogens and decrease your risk of foodborne illness. 165°F is your new lucky number for Thanksgiving. It’s the temperature to heat that bird to, and the stuffing, and any leftovers that you’ll be reheating.
- Pack ‘em up. Speaking of leftovers, make sure to package them up ASAP. The rule of thumb is under 2 hours for foods to be left out in an air-conditioned space. For outdoor events in the heat, 1 hour is the maximum limit.
- Know your limits. How long will those leftovers safely last? For gravy, it’s two days and the cooked turkey, three to four days. Do you have enough leftovers for a few more Thanksgiving meals? Freezing leftovers will preserve foods so they can last for months. Check out the free app Is My Food Safe.
A happy, healthy and (food) safe Thanksgiving to you and your family.
Jamie Stolarz, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian, a lifelong cook and a frequent gym-goer. She’s also a proud dog mom and is currently planning her wedding.