Eat Well — and Safely — This Season

The December holidays are a great time for sharing traditions and making new memories, often while hovering over plates of appetizers, holiday meats, sides and desserts. That last thing you want to do is wake up with an upset digestive track from eating poorly handled food.

Becky Morrow, a manager at Memorial Medical Center’s Food and Nutrition department who also teaches food sanitization courses, says taking a few important measures in preparing and storing the foods you share at holiday gatherings this year can prevent you and your guests from suffering food poisoning.

  • Keep things clean. Wash your hands often and keep everything clean in the kitchen as you are preparing foods.
  • Keep hot foods hot, and cold food cold. When you set food out for serving, there’s a four-hour maximum window. “If anything has been set out of a temperature-controlled situation for longer than four hours, you should discard it,” Morrow said. To keep food safe for eating, make a note of the time you set out particular dishes, or keep cold foods on ice or hot foods in a slow cooker to maintain the appropriate temperate for the dish. The “food danger zone” is between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep cold foods below 41F and hot foods above 135F.
  • When you eat certain foods that are known to be more susceptible to dangerous bacteria — homemade eggnog, raw oysters, etc.  — be conscious of what you are eating. Those who should avoid these foods include young children, elderly adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
  • Cook meats to the proper internal temperature. The USDA recommends, at minimum:
    • Ground meats: 160F
    • Poultry: 165F
    • Beef, veal and lamb steaks, chops and roasts: 145F
    • Fresh pork (all cuts): 160F
  • Leftovers should be slightly cooled before refrigeration. Divide them into smaller portions or place in shallow containers to help them cool quickly. A rule of thumb for cooling online poker machines foods is to reduce the temperature from 135F to 70F within the first two hours (most critical), then from 70F to 41F within an additional four hours.
  • Throw away leftovers in your fridge after three days.

Practicing good culinary skills and food management is key for keeping family members happy and healthy. But should you accidently eat something that’s spoiled, Joe Bilyeu, MD, a family medicine physician at North Dirksen Medical Associates, said the signs and symptoms of food poisoning usually occur two to 24 hours after you eat and include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. You also may experience fever and chills. Food poisoning usually lasts 12 to 24 hours (opposed to the flu, which can last days).

The best way to treat food poisoning is to push fluids and rest — and avoid eating whatever made you sick in the first place, Bilyeu said. Also, avoid using products such as Imodium as it may prolong symptoms.

“Most food poisoning resolves on its own,” he said. “However, if you have significant vomiting and diarrhea, feel dehydrated, or get lightheaded or dizzy, I would suggest going to your primary care physician for further evaluation and treatment.”