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Food Handling
Beware of Holiday Foods That Kill

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

Its that time of year again. Were overcome by the thrill of holiday shopping, parties, family gatherings, out-of-town guests and everything else that makes from now until New Years so darn special

But in the midst of all the holiday hustle and bustle, we often lose sight of what’s really important -- just how long should those festive food trays stay out in the open air?

This year, our holiday gift to you is a guide to preventing food poisoning. Food-borne illness is no joke. An estimated 76 million Americans are leveled by food-borne illness annually. At least 5,200 will die.

The elderly and indviduals with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk. But food safety expert Debra Holtzman says it ‘tis the season to be cautious because even the healthiest partygoer is a potential victim.

Most of us will attend or host at least one gathering over the next few months. And chances are there will be plenty of festive food spreads that include everything from cold cuts to dips to desserts. Holtzman, author of The Panic-Proof Parent: Creating A Safe Lifestyle for Your Family (McGraw-Hill), says you can take measures to ward off food-borne illness.

At parties, they put out cold cuts, pies, cut-up fruit, she says from her Florida home. What happens is you get so caught up with your guests, you dont remember the 'two hour rule.' If food is left out more than two hours, bacteria grows to harmful levels and thats when people get sick.

“You have to keep an eye on the food. If guests come at 4 p.m. and the food is still there at 8 p.m., you have to realize that people can get sick. You lose track of things during the holidays with so much going on.”

Another error made by well-intentioned hosts and hostesses is the topping off of a dish that’s been sitting for an extended amount of time. You shouldn't dump fresh food atop old food. When you do refill a dish, empty and wash the platter or serve the new food on a new platter. It’s a simple step in reducing the risk of food–borne illness. Holtzman urges party-throwers to keep an eye on the clock and never leave food out for longer than two hours.

If you’re a concerned guest, you can nicely ask the host if they would like you to put the food in the refrigerator so that the food doesn’t go bad.

Food-borne illness is by no means a holiday tradition a la How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's important to keep the kitchen area clean year-round.

In this eDiets exclusive, Holtzman serves up a few steps that should be taken when preparing your favorite holiday foods. You may not realize how sick you can get from certain dishes, especially those involving raw eggs.

If a recipe calls for raw eggs, try pasteurized eggs or no egg at all. It could mean the difference between a healthy holiday and a harrowing one that leaves you Grinch-like green around the gills.

“There are very few things we can control in life," Holtzman says. "But these are things we have the power to control. It’s easy.”

Here are some popular foods that can be hazardous to your health.

  • Eggnog: The best way to serve eggnog is to buy it in carton. The store-sold product is pasteurized and is safe. If you make your own eggnog, use only pasteurized eggs, not raw ones.

  • Pies: Custard-type pies, including homemade pumpkin pie, need to be refrigerated. If you run out of space in the refrigerator, rearrange items so that the pies will fit inside the refrigerator. Pies at room temperature can grow dangerous bacteria.

  • Honey: Never give honey to a baby under the age of one. Honey may contain bacterial spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious disease that affects the nervous system of young babies.

  • Chocolate: Pet owners beware! Chocolate is toxic, and sometimes even fatal, for Fido or Kitty!

  • Candy canes: Hard candies and candy canes present a choking risk. Keep out of reach of small children.

  • Cookie dough: If you use raw eggs in the cookie dough batter, eat your homemade cookies fully cooked! Raw eggs can be contaminated with salmonella, a food-borne illness that can prove fatal if untreated.

  • Apple cider: Pasteurization kills bacteria. If you aren't sure if a product is pasteurized, boil it for a minute. Unpasteurized products have been linked to salmonella, E. coli and listeria -- all can lead to death.

  • Turkey and stuffing: Cooking stuffing in a turkey or chicken should be avoided. The bird cooks both from the outside and the inside. When you stuff the bird, it reduces the heat penetration. Your best bet is to cook the turkey and stuffing separately. If you do choose to cook them together, make sure the temperature reaches at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the innermost part of the thigh, while the center of the stuffing inside the turkey reaches 165 degrees. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that hasn't reached that temperature.

  • Caesar salad: Many recipes call for raw eggs in Caesar salad. Do not use raw eggs in the dressing. Use a pasteurized egg instead.

  • Perishable foods: Never leave perishable food at room temperature over two hours. Perishable foods include raw and cooked meat, poultry and seafood products. Once fruits and vegetables are cut, it is safest to also limit their time at room temperature. If perishable food is left at room temperature for over two hours, bacteria can grow to harmful levels.

  • Alcohol: Alcohol affects children more drastically than adults, so even small amounts of alcohol can be dangerous to children. It causes a quick drop in blood sugar, drowsiness, seizures and even death. Spiked holiday punch and eggnog should be kept out of the reach of children. Remove all empty and partially empty cups as soon as possible. Store alcohol in a locked cabinet out of reach and sight of children. Don't store it in your refrigerator where a child could have easy access. Remember that children imitate adults and may drink the beverages they see adults drinking.

Now that you're armed with a few simple rules, go forth and enjoy a safe, happy holiday season!

Debra Holtzman is a nationally recognized safety and health expert and the author of the popular book, The Panic-Proof Parent: Creating A Safe Lifestyle for Your Family (McGraw-Hill). Debra can be seen every week as "the safety expert" on the new television series "Make Room for Baby" on the Discovery Health Channel.

To get your copy of her book, click here

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