How to avoid food poisoning this holiday season
The most common calls to the Tennessee Poison Center this time of year involve food poisoning concerns.
Preparing a holiday feast can begin as soon as you get home from the grocery store. But if you want to serve family and friends a delicious meal that keeps them coming back for more, food safety guidelines need to be part of the recipe.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each year an estimated 48 million people, about one in six, contract a foodborne illness. Approximately 128,000 require hospitalization, and 3,000 cases are fatal.
“The most common calls that the Tennessee Poison Center receives this time of year involve children coming into contact with raw poultry or uncooked baking mix, putting them at risk for exposure to campylobacter or salmonella. It’s pretty scary to look over and see your toddler chewing on a raw piece of chicken,” said Justin Loden, Pharm.D., certified specialist in Poison Information at the Tennessee Poison Center.
Symptoms of food poisoning include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. It can take only a few hours, or possibly days for these symptoms to appear, depending on the pathogen involved.
“When preparing meals, remember to keep young children out of the kitchen, and limit the spread of germs by washing your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and cutting boards frequently with hot soapy water,” Loden said. If you’re careful, you can stop food poisoning before it starts.
Here are some other important tips to prevent food poisoning:
- Wash your hands after handling uncooked food and before touching or eating other foods.
- Do not wash eggs, meat or poultry as this can spread harmful bacteria.
- Keep meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from all other foods.
- Use the microwave, cold water or refrigerator to defrost your frozen meat or poultry.
- Use a quick-response thermometer to make sure foods are thoroughly cooked or reheated.
- The safest way to cook stuffing is outside of the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you cook stuffing inside the turkey, stuff the turkey just before cooking, and make sure the stuffing reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.
- The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40 and 140 F. Refrigerate leftovers promptly (within two hours) at 40 F or below to reduce bacterial growth.
- After eating, take the remaining meat off the turkey and store in the refrigerator. An entire carcass placed in the refrigerator won’t cool down quickly enough.
- Avoid cross-contamination by completely and securely covering foods in the refrigerator.
- Consume or freeze leftovers within three-four days.
When to seek treatment for food poisoning
If you experience symptoms of food poisoning after eating contaminated food, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, including:
- High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, orally);
- Blood in stools or vomit;
- Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down;
- Signs of dehydration such as marked decrease in urination, a very dry mouth/throat or feeling dizzy when standing up;
- Diarrhea that lasts more than three days.
If you suspect you have food poisoning, call Tennessee Poison Center for treatment advice. The Poison Help toll-free number is 1-800-222-1222. All calls are free and confidential.
This post was written by Kristin Smart, a senior information officer in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center News and Communications Department.