Practice Food Safety During Holidays and Throughout the Year

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Provided by Prince William Fire & Rescue

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Every year, Americans become sick or die from food borne illnesses by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, which is something to keep in mind when preparing for or attending holiday parties. A food-borne disease or illness, also known as food poisoning, is the result of poor handling of food, improper cooking or inadequate storage of food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (, there are more than 250 food-borne diseases most of which are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals. Although Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli are the most recognizable of these infections, Salmonella is the most common cause of food poisoning.

The effects of food poisoning can vary depending on the amount of exposure, your age and your health. The ten most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • High temperature
  • Sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills

Most individuals affected by food poisoning will recover without any lasting effects from their illness but for some the effects can be devastating and evenly deadly. Serious long-term effects associated with some types of food poisoning are:

  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic arthritis
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Death

Groups considered as high risk for food poisoning are:

  • Older adults whose immune system may not respond as quickly and as effectively to infectious organisms as a younger adult’s immune system.
  • Pregnant women due to changes in metabolism and circulation.
  • Infants and young children whose immune systems haven’t fully developed.
  • People with chronic diseases/conditions such as diabetes, liver disease or AIDS or people receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, reduces their immune response

Fruits & Vegetables

Although Americans view meat as a health safety threat, fruits and vegetables are most common sources of foodborne illnesses not meat, eggs and seafood. Because fresh produce is uncooked, it becomes susceptible to contamination when coming into contact with people, food, mostly anything.

USDA’s Four Basic Food Safety Messages

To protect you and your family from contracting a food-borne illness, best practices is to follow the Department of Agriculture’s four basic food safety messages — clean, separate, cook and chill:

  • Clean
    • Wash hands and work surfaces well and often.
  • Separate
    • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs apart from cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cook
    • Fish, seafood, meat, poultry and egg dishes should be cooked at recommended internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to ensure meats are safely cooked.
  • Chill
    • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers if it’s not going to be eaten within two hours.
    • Keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower) and hot foods hot (140°F or higher).
    • Remove bones from large pieces of meat or poultry and divide them into smaller portions before storing.
    • When in Doubt, Throw It Out
      • Discard perishable food that has sat at room temperature for more than two hours. You can’t tell by looks, smells or taste if food is contaminated.
      • Examples of perishable foods are meats, poultry, fish, cooked vegetables, dairy products and eggs.

Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee would like to remind families, during the holidays and throughout the year, when preparing and/or serving food, to take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of family and friends.

For more information on food safety, visit Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration


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