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Tips to prevent food-borne illness during the holidays

The holidays are here. For a lot of us, it’s a season of celebration — and food! So whether you’re hosting family and friends, or a welcome guest, we can all benefit from food safety reminders.

This is especially true for organ transplant recipients, who are placed on immunosuppressant and other medicines that work to prevent the new organ’s rejection by the body.  At the same time, these medications weaken the immune system and make it easier for pathogens to enter the intestinal tract. So food safety is very important for this group.

Pathogens get into food a variety of ways and can lead to a foodborne illness. Here are five tips to keep you safe and prevent foodborne illness during the holidays.

Always wash your hands

One of the best ways to help prevent a foodborne illness is through proper hand washing. Hands should be washed after using the restroom, touching hair, face or clothing, coughing or wiping the nose and touching pets. Hands should be washed before preparing food. If you are serving food, try to avoid bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food whenever possible by using serving utensils or tongs. Washing hands while singing the “Happy Birthday” song will allow sufficient time to get your hands properly cleaned.

Keep cold food cold, and hot food hot

Make sure you refrigerate cold food and place frozen items in the freezer soon after arriving from the grocery store. Avoid consuming cold food that has in out at room temperature for extended periods of time. For hot food, make sure it has been kept hot or re-heated to the appropriate temperature before serving.

Of course, cooking foods to the safe minimum internal temperature is also important. Check out the chart below.

You can’t tell by looking, use a food thermometer to be sure.

USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

Beef, pork, veal, lamp, steaks, roasts and chops 145 F (with a 3 minute rest time)
Fish 145 F
Beef, pork, veal and lamb (ground meats) 160 F
Egg dishes 160 F
Turkey, chicken and duck (whole pieces and ground) 165 F


Store food correctly for food safety

Do not store uncooked meats on a refrigerator shelf directly above cooked or ready-to-eat foods. The liquids from the uncooked meats can drain onto cooked items causing cross contamination and production of pathogens.

Date and label food stored in the refrigerator with the date prepared

All cooked food should be consumed within seven days or thrown out. 

Read food labels

When shopping, ensure you are not purchasing items that have expired or are expiring soon. It is important that you read food labels especially when shopping for eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products. A sell by date indicates that you should purchase the product before the date expires. Best if used by date indicates that the flavor or freshness is best if purchased before the date displayed. The use by date indicates the last day for the items to be used, as this is the predetermined date before quality is lost.

These are some things to consider as you think about what goes on your plate.