Keep germs off the guest list at holiday meals

Tis the season for food safety – fa-la-la-la-la, get flu shots, too!
Snohomish Health District
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. Nothing can ruin a party quite like food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 31 pathogens known to cause food-borne illness. Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States due to food-borne diseases.
Keep all your guests healthy by following these food safety tips from the Snohomish Health District.
Proper planning. Make sure your kitchen has everything you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for cooling and storage, paper towels and soap. Store foods in the refrigerator at 41°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.
Safe shopping. At the grocery store, bag raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t buy bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the store. Always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours. Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or under cold-running water. Never defrost the turkey at room temperature.
Working in the kitchen. Got extra helpers in the kitchen? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, visiting the restroom, or changing a baby’s diapers. Keep all work surfaces sanitized, too. Spray or wipe on a solution of 1 tsp of unscented bleach per gallon of cold water.
When baking holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Make eggnog with pasteurized eggs and pasteurized milk, or simply buy it ready-made with those ingredients. Adding a nip of brandy or whiskey will not kill the germs. When making homemade eggnog, be sure to cook the mixture to 165°F, then refrigerate.
Cook. Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the
harmful bacteria that cause illness. Cook your turkey to a minimum of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, including the stuffing. The healthiest method is to prepare and cook the stuffing separately – outside the bird. Test the bird’s temp in the thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the inside. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer rest against bone.
Potluck contributions. Remember to keep hot foods hot (135°F or higher) and cold foods cold (41°F or below). To help keep foods hot wrap dishes in foil, cover them in heavy towels, or put them in insulated containers designed to keep food hot. For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs, or use an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 41°F or lower, especially if traveling for more than half an hour.
Buffet, anyone? If you set up food in a buffet line, take care to put spoons in each dish for self-service, and assist children in filling their plates. No fingers allowed!
Wrap it up! Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with the date it was prepared. Reheat leftovers to 165°F. Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 41°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an at-home food-borne illness.
Eat cooked turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days and gravy in 1-2 days. Cooked turkey keeps up to 4 months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, and bring gravy and sauces to a boil before serving. Microwaved leftovers shouldn’t have cold spots (bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.
Following these food safety steps at your house will make the meal a happy memory for everyone. Happy, healthy holidays from the Snohomish Health District!
Additional resources:
Free kit
The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit at provides food safety advice and meal planning in one convenient location. The kit includes information on purchasing, thawing and cooking a turkey; a holiday planner with menus, timelines, and shopping lists; and dozens of delicious (and food-safe) recipes. The kit also has arts and crafts activities and downloads for kids so they can join the holiday fun.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.
* Typical symptoms of food-borne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps which can start hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed. The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But food-borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition or medication that weakens the immune system.

State reminding people to cook shellfish after increase in illnesses

Published: August 14, 2013


Three people in Whatcom County have become sickened by saltwater bacteria after eating undercooked or raw crab and oysters – part of a statewide surge totaling 44 probable or confirmed cases of the intestinal illness.

The number of cases of people sickened by vibrio bacteria is about twice what it was for this time last year; about 40 to 80 cases are reported annually.

“We seem to be in an active season,” said Rick Porso of the state Department of Health’s Office of Shellfish and Water Protection.

Most cases occur during summer.

The worst outbreak in recent years was in 2006, when Washington had 80 lab-confirmed vibrio cases, with 36 of them in King County, according to the King County Health Department.

Of the 44 confirmed or probable cases so far this year, King County has 21.

To avoid being sickened, health officials recommend cooking all shellfish during the summer to kill the bacteria.

“It is completely preventable with cooking, so that’s what we urge people to do this time of year,” Porso said.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus, the bacterium that causes the illness, occurs naturally in marine coastal waters.

In low numbers, vibrio doesn’t sicken people. But when water temperatures rise, the bacteria multiply rapidly – raising the risk of vibriosis illness among people who eat raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters.

Public health officials believe the warm summer and daytime low tides contributed to the recent illnesses, and expect more to occur in the coming weeks because current conditions are likely to continue.

Vibriosis causes flu-like symptoms that can include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually appear 12 to 24 hours after eating infected shellfish.

The illness is usually mild to moderate and lasts two to five days, but it can be life-threatening to people with weak immune systems or chronic liver disease. People who take antacids also can become very sick.

The three cases reported in Whatcom County were from recreational harvesters who fell ill after eating oysters and crab.

Here’s what people should do to kill the bacteria and avoid becoming sick:

– Cook shellfish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds.

– Recreational harvesters should take extra precautions when gathering oysters during the summer, including putting them on ice or refrigerating them as soon as possible after collecting them.

– Harvest as soon as the tide recedes, avoiding oysters that may have been exposed for unknown periods of time.

– Don’t rinse cooked oysters with seawater.

– Before gathering shellfish, recreational harvesters should check safety information by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-800-562-5632.

The Department of Health has been sending notices to shellfish growers recommending extra precautions during low mid-day tides and warm weather.

Officials close a growing area when vibrio levels are high or when four or more people who eat shellfish from there are sickened within 30 days. As a result, Hammersley Inlet and several parts of Hood Canal, including Dabob Bay and Quilcene Bay, are closed because of high vibrio levels, while Oakland Bay and Totten Inlet growing areas are closed because of recent illnesses.

Reach KIE RELYEA at or call 715-2234.