Food poisoning could be an unwelcome guest during the holiday season
by: Joanna Robnik, M.D.
We are entering the holiday season, which could also be called the season of food. Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cookie exchanges and eggnog all grace our tables. And, while it’s wise to be aware and wary of holiday weight gain, there’s another issue related to eating that we should keep in mind: food poisoning.
Food poisoning is caused when someone eats food that contains harmful bacteria, parasites or viruses. This usually happens when food has been improperly prepared or stored. Following safe food handling guidelines can help prevent food poisoning. These include:
• Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before handling any food.
• Disinfect all cutting surfaces, utensils and countertops after contact with raw meat.
• Set your refrigerator to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
• Check expiration dates on foods.
• Do not taste or eat home-canned food from containers that are leaking, cracked, bulging or if the container spurts liquid or foam when opened.
• Keep foods separate from each other. Do not allow raw meat to touch vegetables. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not back on the one that held raw meat.
• Wash fresh produce under running water and dry with paper towels. (Cloth towels can harbor germs.)
• Cook meat, poultry and eggs to the recommended temperatures.
• Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Do not leave foods sitting out on the table. Refrigerate leftovers immediately after mealtime.
• Shop safely. Bag raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. When shopping for your Thanksgiving turkey, put your bird in your cart at the end of your shopping trip, not at the beginning.
• Thaw your turkey in the fridge, not on the counter. Place the bird on a tray to catch juices that may leak. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey. Never cook a frozen turkey.
• Cook your turkey until it’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The same goes for the stuffing in a stuffed turkey.
• When in doubt, throw it out. Reheating contaminated food won’t make it safe to eat.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year 48 million Americans (or one in six) gets sick from food poisoning. Of that number, the vast majority experience mild to moderate symptoms and are able to successfully treat their illness at home. Anyone can get food poisoning, however certain groups are at greater risk for complications. They include pregnant women, children, the elderly and individuals with suppressed immune systems.
Common symptoms of food poisoning include: nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Other symptoms are mild fever, abdominal pain and stomach cramps, weakness and headaches. Usually symptoms will subside within two to three days.
Most often, these symptoms can be treated at home by resting and getting plenty of fluids to ward off dehydration caused by diarrhea. Avoid soda and fruit juices as they contain too much sugar and aren’t good choices for rehydration.
In rare cases, symptoms do no subside after three days or they continue to worsen. Contact your doctor if you experience a fever of over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit (100.4 in a child), you cannot keep fluids down, have bloody stools, prolonged vomiting, blurred or double vision or signs of dehydration – dry mouth, dizziness and reduced urination.
We are headed into a season of parties and platters, friends, family and food. No one wants to interrupt their celebrating with a bout of food poisoning. Keep food-borne illness at bay now and throughout the year by following safe food preparation storage practices. Most cases of food poisoning can be treated at home, but certain strains can lead to complications and even death. If you experience serious symptoms or symptoms that last more than three days, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
Dr. Robnik is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.