Don’t Let Foodborne Illness Crash Your Holiday Party, From the Harvard Women’s Health Watch

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Don't let foodborne pathogens crash your party.

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Most people are aware of the hazards of excessive food and drink during the winter holidays, but few worry about a lesser-known risk of year-end celebrations: foodborne illness, better known as food poisoning. Every year, 48 million Americans develop food poisoning. Festive buffets and dinners offer more opportunities for contamination than most meals, but some simple precautions can reduce the risk, reports the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

Most bacteria on fruits and vegetables can be washed off, but only thorough cooking destroys most of those on meat, fish, and poultry. Keep in mind that bacteria thrive in the “danger zone”—temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. Leaving raw meat or poultry in the danger zone for more than two hours may produce illness-causing toxins that aren’t destroyed by cooking.

Take special care with the following holiday foods, beverages, and traditions:

Turkey. Make sure a fresh turkey reaches your refrigerator within two hours of leaving the merchant’s cooler. Thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator to prevent the surface from reaching temperatures above 40° F. Cook turkey until the temperature is 165° F in the innermost breast and thighs and serve it within two hours.

Stuffing. Stuffing packed in the cavity of the turkey can pick up bacteria from the internal drippings as the bird cooks, and it might not get hot enough to destroy the bacteria before the bird is done. The safest approach is to cook the stuffing separately.

Pumpkin pie and eggnog. Eggs—an important ingredient in both of these holiday treats—can contain small amounts of the illness-inducing bacterium Salmonella. To destroy this bacterium, egg-containing foods must be cooked to a temperature of 160° F. (Recipes for cooked eggnog are available on the Web).

Food gifts. Prepared foods that travel more than two hours must be kept chilled or frozen en route. If a frozen food arrives fully thawed or a chilled food arrives at room temperature, discard it.

Buffets. Don’t allow prepared foods to sit out for more than two hours. Divide each dish into smaller portions and replace dishes as they empty. Wash a serving dish before reusing it.

Read the full-length article here: “The overlooked hazards of holiday eating”

Also in this issue:

  •     Depression and cardiovascular risk in women
  •     Staying active despite osteoporosis
  •     Vaginal estrogen for overactive bladder
  •     Health risks for DES daughters
  •     Should I have my magnesium level checked?
  •     Does vaginal estrogen have the same risks as oral or patch estrogen?

Harvard Women’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

Media: Contact Raquel Schott at Raquel_Schott(at)hms(dot)harvard(dot)edu for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.


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