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Avoiding Thanksgiving Food Poisoning

Nov 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Avoiding Thanksgiving Food Poisoning

FDA Web Page Is Offering Some Suggestion

As we approach this year’s holiday season, and in light of the seemingly weekly reports of food borne illnesses outbreaks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Consumer Health Information Web page is offering some suggestions.

The FDA notes that food poisoning generally appears in the form stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, the onset of which traditionally occurs a few days after ingesting tainted food or drink.  While the symptoms of food poisoning generally tend to pass rather quickly in healthy people, for the elderly, children and infants, pregnant woman, and people suffering from compromised immune systems, food poisoning can be severe, sometimes fatal.  The FDA says to Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill to help combat food poisoning this holiday season.

The FDA says to ensure everything in the food preparation area is clean; that hands are washed with soapy warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and that surfaces in contact with food—cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops—be cleaned with hot soapy water each time a food item is changed.  Also, says the FDA, rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt, but never rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking as this can enable the spread of bacteria to area surfaces.

Separation Is Important To Prevent Cross-Contamination 

Separation is important to preventing bacterial cross-contamination.  For instances, raw meat, poultry, and seafood and their juices must be kept away from foods that won't be cooked when shopping, preparing, and storing the foods.  Also, consumers should only use one cutting board for those foods that will be cooked—raw meat, poultry, and seafood—and another cutting board for ready-to-eat foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables.  And, never place cooked meat on an unwashed plate that held raw meat.

Of course, always ensure that food is appropriately cooked and bear in mind that food is only cooked safely when it reaches an internal temperature that is high enough to kill harmful bacteria.  This determination cannot be made by simply looking at the food and its color; a food thermometer is necessary.  In a turkey, this means checking in the innermost section of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, ensuring that the meat and stuffing reaches a temperature of 165ºF.  Always ensure oysters in oyster dressing are thoroughly cooked; sauces, soups, and gravies reach a rolling boil when reheating; and that eggs are cooked until the yolk and white are firm.  When preparing foods made with raw eggs—for instance eggnog—only use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.  The FDA warns against eating uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.

Finally, the FDA warns that foods be refrigerated because bacteria can spread quickly at room temperature; leftovers and take-out foods should be refrigerated within two hours in a refrigerator set no higher than 40ºF and a freezer at 0ºF.  The FDA suggests checking these areas periodically with an appliance thermometer.  Also, food should never be defrosted at room temperature and can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in a microwave, with food thawed in cold water or in the microwave cooked immediately.  The FDA says to allow food to thaw for the correct amount of time.  For instance, says the FDA, a 20-pound turkey requires four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.

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