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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Holiday Food – Keep Your Guests Safe

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Dec 18, 2016 - 9:41:59 AM

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( - This is the time of year when we make food for guests, go to holiday parties, bake cookies, and sample foods when we are out and about. It is also the time of year when safe food handling practices may be ignored. Don’t ruin your holiday or those of your guests by spreading foodborne illness.

Though we have done an excellent job controlling infectious diseases like measles, polio, and chicken pox, today, the largest outbreaks of infectious disease are related to food. Foodborne illness (sometimes called food poisoning) is common, costly, and most important preventable. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that each year 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne disease. The elderly and young children are most vulnerable. As our population ages these types of illnesses become a bigger problem.

We often connect foodborne illness with eating out or foods we buy that might be contaminated but in fact your home may be the primary cause of many cases. In the kitchen the most common mistakes that contribute to foodborne illness are improper food handling, preparation and storage and eating undercooked or raw foods while cooking.

Don’t reuse tasting spoons or lick utensils. It’s fun to bake cookies with kids and what kid does not love licking the rubber scraper. This simple act can cause two problems. If a child licks a utensil and it is used again in preparation, bacteria can be introduced into the food which could multiply and spread. Second, if the batter contains raw egg, the child can be exposed to potentially harmful pathogens. Use this cooking experience to teach kids not to reuse a tasting spoon and not to eat batter containing raw eggs. These little cooks will be happy to spread the word to others and they can serve as great teachers.

Don’t cook for others if you don’t feel well. If you have a bad cold, don’t make your favorite casserole for the holiday pot luck supper. Buy something instead. Close to 5.5 million cases of norovirus are caused every year by sick cooks or food handlers. Many of them are home cooks.

Don’t cross contaminate. Don’t place a cooked roast on the same platter that held it raw. Don’t use the same knife to cut raw then cooked food unless you wash both your hands and the knife in between. Use different cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, or again, wash in between. Cross contamination is a major way to spread foodborne organisms. Campylobacter is the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea in the US, resulting in close to 900,000 cases a year. Cross contamination between raw and cooked food is one of its major routes of transmission.

2 hours from serving to refrigerator. We’ve all let leftovers linger after a big holiday meal. This isn’t wise. The safety zone from the time food is served till it is refrigerated should be no more than 2 hours.

4 days – eat it or freeze it. Refrigerators bulge with leftovers throughout the holidays. If you don’t eat leftovers within 4 days, throw them away or freeze for a future meal. Reheat leftovers thoroughly to 165 degrees. If heated in the microwave, heat, stir, and heat again to eliminate cool spots. Liquid leftovers, like gravy or soup, should be heated to rolling boil. Pathogens multiply quickly in food, even when it is cold. Heating to the correct temperature is your most lethal weapon.

Travel safely with food. Whether you are bringing hot or cold food to a friend, pack the food in an insulated bag or cooler. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to prevent dangerous organisms from growing while you and your favorite dish are on the move.

If food falls on the floor, throw it away. We all hate to waste food and many have been told that if food stays in contact with the floor for less than 5 seconds it is still safe to eat. It may be, but you are playing Russian roulette with your health. Time and time again researchers have shown that some bacteria will transfer to food instantaneously on contact. The wetter the food the quicker the contamination and stainless steel and tile transferred more bacteria to food than a carpet – an unexpected finding.

Enjoy the holidays but keep your food, friends and family safe.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books.

Available as eBooks from iTunes and Amazon Kindle:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:


For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:



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