Food & dining

Spread joy, not food poisoning, this holiday season

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One of the most rewarding parts of throwing a holiday bash is hearing the next day from guests reminiscing about how delicious and fun the prior evening was for all. What you don’t want to receive are messages about an impromptu afterparty thrown at the local emergency room. Food poisoning is a horrific holiday present to give folks as it’s a gift that could keep giving . . . for days.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people get sick from food poisoning each year, with 128,000 of them having to be hospitalized. Bouts of nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea are not only unpleasant reminders that you ate some bad food, but this type of foodborne illness can accelerate to the point that is life-threatening. According to the CDC, 3,000 people die annually from food poisoning.

If children, pregnant women, older adults, and/or those with certain chronic conditions are on your guest list, they are even more susceptible to food poisoning because their immune systems might be weakened or not as strong as they need to be yet. To help you enjoy your holiday season without regret, here are five strategies to safeguard your guests:

Be mindful when making cookies and dough ornaments

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If you are baking cookies or making raw dough ornaments at your party, you could be asking for trouble. While you shouldn’t eat raw egg-containing cookie dough or batter because of the increased risk of salmonella, that’s only part of the problem. According to the Food and Drug Administration, flour may contain bacteria that can also sicken you. In 2016, there was an outbreak of foodborne illness from bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121. Because of this, the FDA is now recommending that you don’t let children play with raw dough. If you or your guests come in contact with flour, make sure that all hands, work surfaces, and utensils are thoroughly washed when the baking and crafts are completed.

Alter Grandma’s homemade eggnog recipe

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Sipping eggnog topped with ground cinnamon and nutmeg just screams holiday cheer. Unfortunately, making the traditional recipe with raw eggs will put you and your guests at risk. The CDC recommends that you swap out the raw eggs from the eggnog recipe for pasteurized eggs that can be found at many supermarkets. Even better, save yourself time and worry by buying pre-made eggnog that is already pasteurized. Just don’t tell Grandma.

Roast a safe turkey or chicken — and don’t wash it first

In a study done by researchers at the CDC, poultry was found to be the most common cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States. The good news is that proper cooking will kill nasty bacteria. To avoid food poisoning, get yourself a reliable food thermometer and make sure that it is inserted in the innermost part of the thigh, wing, and breast of the poultry. If the thermometer reaches a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees, you are good to go. Contrary to popular thought, don’t wash the poultry before cooking it. Giving your bird a bath in your kitchen sink will not wash away the bacteria, but it could splatter it in the sink and contaminate surrounding surfaces.

Buffer the buffet table

When putting food out on a buffet table, you need to remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods, such as cooked shrimp and salads, should be placed on a pan of ice to help keep these items at 40 degrees or colder. Use heating trays to keep hot foods at 140 degrees to keep bacteria from multiplying to levels that can make folks sick. Better yet, only put out small portions of these foods at a time. When the platter is empty, replenish the buffet table with a new platter of food from the refrigerator or oven. When the party is over, perishable foods left at room temperature for two hours or more should be tossed.

Provide parting gifts that go the distance

If you are sending your guests home with leftovers, be mindful of the distance they have to travel. If they’ll be on the road more than two hours, perishables should be packed in a cooler with ice or cold packs that will keep the food at 40 degrees.

Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, MS, FAND, is a clinical associate professor in the nutrition program at Boston University. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JoanSalgeBlake.