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Holiday party hints for avoiding food poisoning

Do's and don'ts when it comes to holiday gatherings

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[December 17, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- Fancy dips, tempting hors d'oeuvres and delightful desserts are some of the culinary treats we see at holiday dinners, office parties or other celebrations. However, those get-togethers could result in foodborne illness if you are not careful.

Estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses. In Illinois, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 cases of foodborne illness may occur each year. However, because these illnesses can be mild and because the vast majority of them occur in the home, many go unreported.

"As a guest at holiday parties, there are a couple things you can watch out for to avoid foodborne illness. Hot foods should be hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria will start to grow on food that should be served either cold or hot, that is sitting out for more than a couple hours at room temperature. You should also be cautious when eating certain foods, such as raw oysters, egg drinks, soft-boiled eggs, steak tartare, and rare or medium hamburger. These foods can harbor bacteria that cause foodborne illness," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director LaMar Hasbrouck.

Holiday hosts -- what you should do:

  • Clean: Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after preparing food. Wash all utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soap and water. Rinse fresh produce with water.

  • Separate: Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat and poultry, and their juices, separate from fruits, vegetables and cooked foods. Never use a utensil on cooked foods that was previously used on uncooked foods, unless it's washed first with soap and water.

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  • Cook: Always use a food thermometer when cooking meat and poultry to make sure of cooking to a safe internal temperature.

  • Chill: Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Set your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees.

Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who are ill or whose immune systems are compromised are often at higher risk of complications due to foodborne illness.

If you or a family member develops nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or abdominal cramps, you could have foodborne illness. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two weeks after eating contaminated food. Most often, people get sick within four to 48 hours after eating contaminated food.

Some foodborne illnesses will resolve themselves without treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe or if the person is very young, old, pregnant or already ill, call a doctor or go to a nearby hospital immediately. If groups of people from different households become sick with vomiting and diarrhea, contact the local health department.

[Text from Illinois Department of Public Health file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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