Food/Nutrition Columnist
Holiday Food – Shop Safe, Cook Safe, Be Safe
Dec 9, 2017 - 7:15:54 AM

( - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans will suffer a food-related illness this year and 30% of these cases are caused by foods made in your home. During the holidays, we are more likely to cook and entertain, so safe food handling is more important than ever.

If you have ever had a case of food poisoning, more correctly called foodborne illness, you know it’s no joke. Food poisoning can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever and fatigue. Most healthy adults simply suffer for a few days, but for children, pregnant women, older adults, or anyone with a compromised immune system the consequences can be serious.

With enough warmth, moisture and food, 1 bacterium can divide into over 2 million in 7 hours. Simple precautions can keep your food, your family and your guests safe.

Do food shopping last and head home. Don’t leave bags of groceries in the car while you run errands, especially if you live in a hot climate.

Wash your hands but not the meat or poultry you plan to cook. Simple hand washing can prevent almost half of all foodborne illness. An FDA Food Safety Survey showed that washing turkey or meat in the kitchen sink is the quickest way to spread bacteria as far as 3 feet around your sink contaminating countertop, towels, dishes, and other food. Washing doesn’t remove bacteria from meat or poultry only proper cooking does.

Don’t thaw food on the kitchen counter or in the cool garage. Warm temperatures, even in the garage, will promote bacterial growth. Thaw in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Raw meat and poultry should be thawed on the bottom shelf of the frig so prevent dripping onto other foods.

Avoid cross contamination. Wash cutting boards and knives after cutting raw meat, fish or poultry and before cutting up other foods. Consider disposable cutting boards for large holiday meals. Never put cooked food on a platter or bowl that has held raw food and not been washed – even vegetables, remember they grew in the dirt.

Don’t stuff the refrigerator. Cold air needs to circulate to keep the frig cold. Use a cooler for beverages or raw veggies before cooking. Same goes for leftovers. Warm food in an overstuffed frig will not chill down fast enough to prevent bacteria from multiplying.

Don’t sample uncooked food containing eggs or raw meat. Don’t let the kids lick the rubber scraper. Raw eggs contain may contain salmonella, which doesn’t hurt the chicken but could make you very sick. Cooking or baking quickly kills salmonella so there is no risk in sampling cookies right out of the oven.

Use the 2-hour rule. Whether the food is cold or hot 2 hours is the limit at room temperature. One hour if the temperature is over 80 degrees.  Once food falls into the danger zone between 40 to 140 degrees, bacteria multiply rapidly. It is wiser to replenish often rather than leave food out too long. Debone remaining poultry because the carcass harbors the most bacteria and refrigerate leftovers promptly.

Eat or throw out leftovers you have not eaten in 4 days. Bacteria can be present in leftovers even if they smell and look perfectly fine. Think about sending guests home with goody bags, a great way to use up leftovers and share calories.

If food falls on the floor throw it away. No matter what your grandmother says food that lands on the floor should not be eaten. Researchers at Rutgers University found that bacteria adhered to food as soon as it hit the floor. The longer the contact time and the moister the food the greater the risk for the accumulation of bacteria.

Use insulated bags when traveling with food. If your trip will be longer than a half hour – and with holiday traffic you never know – keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

The world is not sterile, so food will never be perfectly safe but if you handle, cook, serve and store food safely, the likelihood of anyone getting sick from your home-cooked, holiday meal will go down dramatically.

© 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 Kindle/Amazon:

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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