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Food safety is key to avoiding foodborne illnesses over the holidays

The holiday season being upon us means that families and friends will gather to enjoy each other and likely a feast will go along with the company.

The Southern Nevada Health District encourages all to “spread good cheer and happiness this holiday season, not foodborne illnesses.”

With an abundance of cooking taking place around the holidays, food safety is the most important ingredient everyone should be adding to their holiday menus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outbreaks occur most often in November and December, with meat and poultry making for 92 percent of outbreaks with an identified single food source.

“In the rush of the season it can be more of a challenge to avoid food handling errors such as cross-contamination and inadequate cooking,” said Dr. Joe Iser, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District.

“People are cooking more food for more people, and we want to remind everyone to take the time to practice safe food-handling techniques to ensure they and their loved ones have a healthy and happy holiday.”

Before, during and after cooking, the SNHD urges everyone to follow four steps to prevent foodborne illness from ruining the holidays:

Clean:

Because illness-causing bacteria survive throughout the kitchen, it is important to keep utensils, cutting boards, surfaces, and hands clean to prevent cross-contamination.

■ Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

■ Wash utensils and cutting boards after each use

■ Wash fruit and vegetables; do not wash poultry and meat

Separate:

Separating produce from poultry and meat can prevent cross-contamination. For example, placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that held raw meat can spread illness-causing bacteria.

■ Use separate cutting boards and plates for meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, ready-to-eat food

■ Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separated in the grocery cart

■ Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separated in the refrigerator

Cook:

■ There are appropriate temperatures that meat and poultry should reach to ensure that any illness-causing bacteria are killed. Use a food thermometer.

■ Keep hot food hot, at 140 degrees

■ Microwave thoroughly to 165 degrees

Chill:

Cold temperatures can inhibit the growth of illness-causing bacteria, which can grow in about two hours in perishable foods.

■ Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours

■ Freeze food

■ Do not thaw or marinate foods on the counter

■ Toss food before bacteria grow

Additional food safety tips include:

■ Buy cold foods last

■ Ask the cashier to place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate bag

■ Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross-contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure there is no cross-contamination after preparation

■ Keep hot food hot and cold food cold, use chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 ˚F, and cold items should remain below 40 ˚F.

■ Always wash your hands, utensils, bowls, and other cutlery when preparing food. Use separate platters and utensils for raw and cooked meats and keep surfaces clean.

■ If ordering catering is part of your holiday plans, make sure the company has the appropriate business license and Health District permits to operate. Unpermitted food establishments have not been inspected by the Health District.

Catering companies are required to operate out of commercial kitchens that meet food safety standards and Health District regulations.

Contact reporter Mick Akers at makers@pvtimes.com. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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