Prevent foodborne illnesses by following simple steps

By Melissa DeRoche

Central Michigan District Health Department Emergency Preparedness Coordinator & Public Information Officer

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The holidays are fast approaching and excitement is in the air. When making plans for your holiday feast, food safety should be on the top of your list.

Most guest lists include people who are especially vulnerable to food borne illness — older people, young children, pregnant women and anyone with a compromised immune system. To keep your family gathering from being memorable in the wrong way, it’s important to take steps to protect your guests from food borne illness.

"To ensure our holiday foods are not only delicious, but safe, the following suggestions of the Food and Drug Administration are provided to reduce the risk of the most common foodborne illnesses," said Michelle Patton, director of environmental health services for the Central Michigan District Health Department.

Cooking: Cook to proper temperatures. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful microbes that cause foodborne illness. Follow temperature guidelines provided with the food packaging and if in doubt, visit cmdhd.org for a handy temperature chart you can use for reference.

Chilling: Refrigerate promptly. Public health officials warn people to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful microbes from growing. Place leftovers in shallow containers, leaving the cover loose to vent steam. Don’t stack the cooling food containers so there is plenty of air circulation. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit to keep stored food at safe temperatures. Whatever you do, don’t rely on the natural outdoor temperature on the porch to keep foods at proper temperature.

Baked goods: The FDA warns people not to eat uncooked cookie dough, homemade or premixed; or batters made with raw eggs, because raw eggs may contain microbes that can cause illness. Proper cooking kills the microbes that cause illness.

Eggnog: Eggnog made with raw eggs also presents disease risk to consumers. While cooking can destroy the disease-causing microbes, people can still get sick when the eggnog is left at room temperature for several hours before drinking. Other options are pasteurized eggnog brands sold in grocery dairy cases; these should also be kept refrigerated.

Turkey: Thawing the turkey fully before cooking is important to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. If a turkey is not fully thawed, the outside of the turkey will be done before the inside, and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing microbes. Allow the correct amount of time to fully thaw and cook a whole turkey. Allocate 24 hours per 5 pounds to defrost in the refrigerator, and whatever you do, don’t defrost the turkey on the kitchen counter. Refer to temperature guidelines for stuffed turkeys which need to be cooked longer.

To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the turkey (thickest part), being careful not to touch the bone. The turkey is done when the temp reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If the turkey is stuffed, the temp of the stuffing and turkey must be 165 degrees Fahrenheit to assure that it is completely cooked and safe to eat. It is recommended to cook the stuffing separately from the turkey.

"Following these simple guidelines will ensure you have a happy and safe holiday season,” said Patton. “Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold."