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Don't Get Food Poisoning from Your Holiday Leftovers

food_poisoningA week ago, a friend called asking me to drop off a liter of Gatorade and as much Pepto-Bismol as I could carry. It was December 8th, and he had just eaten some leftover Thanksgiving turkey. His was a sad, but unfortunately common mistake. While sibling rivalries and consumerism capture headlines for damaging the holiday spirit, food poisoning is one of the most common afflictions during this wonderful time of year. However, with a little care, it is relatively simple to avoid.

For your upcoming Christmas or other holiday meals, consider the following tips to ensure you and your loved ones have a few days free of drama and upheaval, digestively speaking at least.

1. Throw out leftovers.
Yes, they are delicious and such a convenient snack, but throw leftovers out if they’ve been unrefrigerated for more than two hours. Bacteria grow quickly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s this bacteria that makes you sick. If you’re someone who keeps the thermostat in the tropical range during the cold fall and winter, throw leftovers out after one hour.

Note: Mayonnaise often takes the blame for going bad, but it’s really items that the condiment is mixed with, like chicken, eggs, pasta, and even potatoes that spoil and cause illness.

2. Don’t reuse utensils.
Restaurants often seem gratuitous in their fork and knife use, but there’s sound sanitary logic behind the practice. If you’re going to employ the same cutting board or utensils for different parts of a meal, wash them between courses. Foods high in protein, especially meat, can contaminate any surface quickly.

3. Use a sanitizer.
Contrary to popular belief, sponges are not, by their nature, clean. A sanitizing agent can prevent sponges themselves from transferring harmful cultures.

4. Wash your hands.
Dishing up your family’s favorite holiday appetizer? Washing your hands once just isn’t enough. Throughout the course of preparing a meal or a snack, take the extra couple seconds necessary to get your hands sufficiently clean.

5. Don’t always trust your senses.
A visual inspection of your Christmas ham can probably tell you if it’s ready to serve, just like smelling food that’s been left out can usually tell you if it’s bad. That said, these tactics don’t always work. Consider investing in a cooking thermometer, and remember: when in doubt, throw it out.

Even if it’s been refrigerated, doubt about leftovers should start to set in at about a week. With a little bit of diligence, you can make sure your holiday runs its course smoothly all the way through the New Year.

Further reading: if you want to learn more about food poisoning, check out WebMD for “9 Food Poisoning Myths.”

Photo by simonk.

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