The season of holiday dinners and brunches, company parties, and dining at restaurants draped in festive white lights is upon us. Turkey, egg nog, pumpkin pie, the seven fishes …really, even though it can be a bustling time, unless you’re the Grinch, there’s much to enjoy.
Food poisoning, however, could put an unfortunate cramp (pardon the pun) on the festivities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million incidents of food poisoning occurs in the United States annually, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations, and up to 5,000 deaths each year. And while many people start experiencing symptoms 2 to 6 hours after eating the tainted food, it’s possible for weeks to pass before food poison related illness occurs.
So, what causes food poisoning? Infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites and toxic agents, like pesticides or poisonous mushrooms. Salmonella is one of the more widely known bacteria involved in food poisoning and is often found in eggs (hence, the warning not to eat raw cookie dough or cake batter) or undercooked meat. A lack of proper sanitation or poor preparation, including food workers not washing their hands thoroughly, can introduce pathogens to foods. Also food contaminated through poor storage, such as inadequate refrigeration, can be the culprit.
Next: 5 tips to prevent food poisoning
Typically, food poisoning is experienced as what we call the “stomach flu”; symptoms include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and usually pass within a day or two. More severe symptoms of food poisoning include fever and chills, dehydration, and bloody stools; these symptoms can require hospitalization in order to rehydrate the body with intravenous fluids. If you suspect you are suffering from food poisoning and aren’t feeling better within several days, contact your doctor to avoid complications.
If you are the holiday cook this year, here are a few reminders for protecting yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning:
1. Purchase fresh, quality products.
2. Store foods properly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meats and poultry should never be unrefrigerated more than 2 hours.
3. Prepare food with clean hands and surfaces.
4. Cook meat and poultry to safe minimum internal temperatures:
- 145°F degrees F for beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops.
- 160°F for pork, ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
- 165 °F for poultry.
5. Avoid consuming uncooked eggs in batters (boo, hiss…I know).