Don’t Let Food-Related Illness Spoil Your Holidays

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STATE—As the holiday season approaches, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services Food and Drug Safety Program is urging consumers to take simple, preventive measures to keep family and guests safe from food-related illness.

Cooking, serving and storing foods at proper temperatures, and making sure you serve only pasteurized cider and eggnog are key ways to avoid illness from bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella.  As well as being unpleasant, these illnesses can pose a serious health threat to pregnant women and people with health conditions.

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Each year, an estimated 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from food-related illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With just a little extra time and planning, you can make sure your holiday dinner is cooked at the proper temperature and that your leftovers are thoroughly reheated,” said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard.  “One of the best tools for preventing illness is an inexpensive food thermometer you can buy at any supermarket.”

A food can “look” done but still harbor dangerous bacteria.  Use a food thermometer to check whether food is thoroughly cooked or reheated to a safe temperature.  To check temperatures, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food.

Safe temperatures are as follows:
• Fish, meat and pork — 145°F (63°C)
• Ground meat — 155°F (68°C)
• Chicken, turkey, stuffed meat — 165°F (165°C)

It is also important to serve and hold foods at the proper temperature.  Keep cold foods cold in the refrigerator at 41°F or below until ready to serve.  When possible, keep hot foods hot by using tabletop equipment such as crock pots, chafing dishes, sternos, and hot plates.  Do not leave temperature-sensitive foods (i.e., roasts, turkey, stuffing, casseroles) at room temperature for more than two hours.

Place leftovers in the refrigerator immediately.  Do not leave them out on the counter.  In order to ensure proper cooling, divide food into containers that are less than four inches deep, and arrange leftover containers in the refrigerator so that air can circulate between them.

Also, it is recommended that a refrigerator thermometer to make sure your refrigerator’s interior stays at a safe temperature of 41°F or below.  A thermometer can tip you off immediately to any significant rise in temperature.

If you plan to transport foods to or from another location during the holidays, make sure you maintain proper temperatures and protect foods from contamination.  Use coolers and ice packs to ensure cold food stays cold.  Hot foods can be transported in a crock pot or other oven-safe dish, and reheated upon arrival at your destination.

And finally, it’s important to serve only pasteurized cider and eggnog at your gatherings.  Unpasteurized juices and egg products that are served raw put your guests at risk for food-related illnesses.  If you make eggnog at home, don’t use shell eggs.  Buy liquid eggs at the supermarket, but check the label to make sure they are pasteurized.

If you or a family member experience symptoms of  food sickness—headache, stomach discomfort, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, or difficulty breathing—consult your doctor.  This is especially important if the affected person is pregnant or has a serious illness.

The DHSS Food and Drug Safety Program recently created “Holiday Food Safety Tips,” a fact sheet for consumers on food temperatures, storage of leftovers, and transporting food safely from home to another location.   The fact sheet is available at: http://nj.gov/health/foodanddrugsafety/consumer.shtml.

For further information, call the Food and Drug Safety Program at 1-609-826-4935.


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