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Don't share too much this holiday season! - Medically Speaking, Volume Two, Number Six, 12/18/2014

The holiday season is full of family gatherings, parties with friends, potluck luncheons and church celebrations. The thing all of these functions have in common is that there is usually food involved.

When random people start sharing random foods and leaving them out to snack on for who knows how long, disaster can happen. Here are a few helpful tips to avoid sharing more than holiday cheer, because nobody wants to be on the giving or receiving end of food poisoning. These four easy steps will keep your holiday guests at the card table instead of lining up at the bathroom door .

1. Clean - Be sure to wash your hands and all surfaces often. To adequately wash all of the germs and bacteria off of your hands requires about 20 seconds of scrubbing. So sing your favorite version of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and lather up! Make a quick bottle of kitchen sanitizer by mixing 2 tsp. of bleach with 1 gallon of water. After washing surfaces, use this solution to disinfect countertops, cutting boards, knives, dishes, etc.

2. Separate - Prepare raw meats and eggs separately from other foods. Use different cutting boards, knives, etc. for raw meats and fruits, vegetables and breads. Store raw meats and eggs below fresh foods in the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping on them.

3. Cook - Nobody wants to dry out the turkey they've been cooking for Christmas dinner, but how do you tell when it is done? Poultry should never be cooked in an oven with a temperature less than 325 degrees. Using a meat thermometer is the best way to tell if a dish is ready to be served. Below is a chart that will tell you how hot you need to cook your food.

4. Chill - Grandma may have washed her hands often, sanitized her cutting board and made sure not to get any raw eggs in with her fresh bowl of fruit. But if she puts out the breakfast casserole at 8:00 for the early risers and leaves it out for brunch at 11:30 "in case someone stops by" she is still running the risk of making her family and friends sick.

Bacteria grows quickest when food is between 40º -140º F. The amount of bacteria in a food can double in only 20 minutes when food is in this "danger zone". Because of this, you never want to leave food out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90º, food should not be left out more than 1 hour. Keep hot foods hot, greater than 140º F, and cold foods cold, less than 40º F.

One of the most common causes of forborne illness is improper cooling of cooked foods. Leftovers should be put in a shallow container for quick cooling. Everyone knows the best part of Thanksgiving dinner is the left overs. To safely eat reheated food, you should heat it to a temperature of 165º or until hot and steaming. In the microwave it helps to cover and rotate food so that it heats evenly.

A little effort can go a long way in keeping your family well this holiday season. Use these simple tips to prevent your favorite holiday treats from becoming your worst nightmare.

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