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How to Reduce Your Chances of Holiday Food Poisoning

Updated on December 8, 2011

All it takes is one bad bout of food poisoning to ruin a holiday party or event. Unfortunately, during the holiday season, you have a higher risk of succumbing to food poisoning. A first-time host might take the turkey out a little too early, or decide that a mayonnaise-based salad can sit out for several hours. By watching what you eat and making smart choices, you can reduce your chances of experiencing holiday food poisoning firsthand.

What to Do at a Party

When you attend a holiday party or Christmas event, you have little control over who handles and works with the food served. You can still take steps that reduce your chances of food poisoning. The first thing is to look at any meat served, especially poultry. If the turkey or chicken looks even slightly pink, skip the dish. You should also avoid dishes made with uncooked eggs, including some traditional homemade eggnogs. Uncooked poultry and eggs come with the risk of salmonella.

At a Buffet

Buffets are even worse because hosts often set the items out on a buffet and let guests help themselves over the course of several hours. Any time food sits out, it can lead to bacteria, which in turn leads to food poisoning. Before eating, make sure that cold dishes still feel cold to the touch and not lukewarm. This is especially important of dishes served in large or deep serving dishes. Part of the dish might feel cool, while others feel warm.

Do not forget to check hot dishes and appetizers. Only eat those dishes that still feel hot or recently came out of the oven. Avoid any main dish that should be hot, but feels barely warm. You should also skip mayo-based salads or dishes that use mayo and feel warm or barely cold.

Cooking at Home

You are not off the hook for food poisoning, even if you decide to cook at home or throw your own Christmas party. Wash your hands before cooking and every time you switch dishes or foods. If you answer the phone, run to the door, or even grab the doorknob, stop and wash your hands again before cooking.

When it comes to prepping foods, use one cutting board and knife for each type of food. Avoid cross-contamination by not using the same unwashed knife for both raw meat and vegetables. If you use any type of frozen food that requires thawing, place the item in cold water or the refrigerator and avoid the temptation to leave the food sitting on the counter.

Set out your buffet dishes or serving dishes, but do not use the dishes until serving time. The longer you leave food sitting out, the more risk you have of bacteria and food poisoning. Fill the dishes just before serving and clean up as soon as possible. Reduce the risk of holiday food poisoning by putting away leftovers soon after your guests finish eating, instead of leaving them sit out for hours.


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