By Lana Sanstrom
It’s that time of the year when family and friends are gathering to celebrate the holiday season and the upcoming new year. Hopefully, you have had a flu shot but remember that it only protects you from some strains of influenza, which are respiratory. It will take extra care to prevent respiratory illnesses not covered and the food borne illnesses for which there is not a vaccination. I would like to share a few tips toward keeping your holidays merry!
The most important step you can take to stay healthy is to wash your hands with soap and warm water. The Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA has stated that 85% of disease could be prevented simply by people washing their hands. Hands should be washed always after using the rest room, before eating or preparing food, and any other time you feel your hands have been compromised. If water and soap are not available, use a hand sanitizer, however, hand sanitizers should never replace hand washing. When your hands need to be washed, do not touch food that is ready to eat without cooking or rub your eyes, nose, or mouth possibly causing infection.
When shopping for groceries, always take a cooler to keep the cold food cold. In SUVs, crossovers, and some cars the storage areas are not cold enough to protect food. To keep bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses from growing, food must be kept hot or cold. Bacteria doubles every 20 minutes and food that should be kept cold is no longer safe if it sits out for four hours. Consider buying a refrigerator thermometer if your refrigerator does not have one, and ensure the temperature is monitored and kept at 41° F or lower.
Continue to minimize the time food sets out at room temperature when you prepare it such as making cold sandwiches or salads which will not be cooked to kill any present bacteria. For those foods you aren’t going to cook and plan to take to a friend or a potluck such as cookies and candies, consider using a barrier (gloves, napkin, tongs, etc.)instead of picking them up with your bare hands. You could also wash your hands twice for the twenty seconds as an extra preventative step when using bare hands for placing food.
Along with good hand washing, ensure that all surfaces have been cleaned prior to beginning food preparation. Cross-contamination can occur if surfaces and utensils are not cleaned between uses. It is especially imperative that surfaces and utensils are cleaned between raw foods and ready to eat foods which do not require any further cooking. Hot food must remain at 135° F to prevent the growth of bacteria. Stir food held in slow cookers and roasters every 20-30 minutes to keep the heat evenly distributed. If you do not own a hot food thermometer, this might be a good stocking stuffer.
When cooking foods, use a food thermometer to ensure that the food has been properly cooked to kill any present bacteria:
- 135° F – Canned Vegetables and Ready to Eat Foods
- 145° F – Fish and Eggs for immediate service
- 155° F – Ground Fish, Meats, Pork, and Shell Eggs Not Prepared for Immediate Service
- 165° F – Poultry, Stuffed Meats, Stuffed Foods, Stuffing and Reheated Foods
Safe food handing questions are always welcomed by the Douglas County Health Department, call 217-253-4137 and ask for Aaron or Lana. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday season!