by Kimberly Baker, Food Systems and Safety Program Team Director and Assistant Extension Specialist, Clemson University
Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with friends and family around the dinner table. No one wants to cause their family or friends to get sick from a foodborne illness on this holiday or any other occasion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from a foodborne illness each year. According to the CDC, more than 1 million of these people get sick from salmonella, which is the primary pathogen associated with poultry.
As a food safety specialist, I educate food producers, manufacturers and consumers on how to ensure the safety of the food they produce.
This Thanksgiving – and, really, for any gathering – make sure you understand how to prepare your meal to ensure that everyone goes home without a foodborne illness. Understanding the safe food practices to follow at home during preparation, cooking, serving and storing leftovers will keep your holiday meal delicious and safe to eat.
Pathways to foodborne illness
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes a foodborne illness called salmonellosis. Salmonella is also often linked to undercooked poultry and beef, undercooked eggs, raw milk and produce. Symptoms of salmonellosis, which include diarrhea, fever and stomach pain, can begin six hours to six days after eating contaminated food.
Food contamination occurs when pathogens, toxins or chemicals make their way into food. Common pathogens that are attributed to foodborne illnesses are salmonella, E. coli, listeria and norovirus. Botulism is a foodborne illness that is caused by a toxin that is produced by a bacterium. A bacterial or viral contaminant can get on the food at any point along the food production chain, from the field, water, equipment, processing, handling, transportation, storage or preparation.
Every person who grows, handles, transports, stores or prepares food along the food production chain plays a very important role in detecting, eliminating or reducing contamination.
The perennial wisdom of hand-washing
Any food preparation and handling should always start with hand-washing.
Scrub hands, including the top, between fingers, around fingernails and wrists for a minimum of 20 seconds.
Rinse hands under running water.
Dry with a paper towel or air dry.
Hands should also be washed any time during food preparation that your hands have touched another food or surface that may have pathogens on it. This includes handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, as well as touching unwashed produce, blowing your nose, touching your cellphone or petting a cat or dog, to name a few.
A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which is the branch of the USDA that makes sure meat, poultry and eggs are safe for consumption, observed that 97% of study participants failed to wash their hands during food preparation when they should have. So while hand-washing might seem like a no-brainer, clearly it’s not.