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Holiday Food Safety Tips

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

Bacteria in contaminated food will infect more than 75 million people each year in the U.S., and food-borne illnesses cause more than 5,000 deaths, according to a Duke University Health System registered dietitian.

Sarah Carnathan, a registered dietitian at Durham Regional Hospital, part of the Duke University Health System, says food safety begins with a clean environment.

"Be sure to wash your hands well," says Carnathan. "It's recommended that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, particularly when handling raw meat or poultry, and that you use warm to hot water, to help kill any bacteria. And of course, use soap to help sanitize. Make sure your counters and other surfaces are clean, and use clean cloths for wiping up spills."

Carnathan said it is important to pay special attention to certain foods.

"Be careful of foods that can grow bacteria rapidly and that can contribute to causing a food-borne illness," she said. "The most common foods are ones high in protein content, such as meats, and foods that have a lot of moisture content, since that's an environment that can grow bacteria quickly."

Carnathan noted that cooks should be especially careful to avoid cross-contamination between raw meats and other foods.

"You don't want to be chopping meat and using that same knife or other utensil on your fruits and vegetables. It's also a good idea to have more than one cutting board – one for raw meats, poultry and seafood, and another for other foods."

According to Carnathan, a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat during cooking is the best way to ensure meats are fully cooked and safe from bacteria. "Pork and ground beef should be cooked at the highest temperature, which is 165 degrees. Poultry should be cooked at 155 degrees, and other foods, including fish, eggs and beef, to 145 degrees."

Be sure to cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly, says Carnathan. Leaving food out too long on the holiday table or buffet can be risky.

"There's a danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where bacteria can easily grow and spread. It's recommended not to consume any food that has been left out for two hours. If the party lasts longer than two hours, remove foods from the table and replace them with fresh servings."

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