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Published on November 07, 2016

Holiday Food Safety

November 7, 2016

Mom helping daughter bast turkeyThe holiday season is a time for sharing—and maybe spreading a foodborne illness. Thankfully, a few simple precautions can help you stop tainted food from spoiling the family feast. Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is an unwelcome guest at any holiday dinner table. Which toxic organisms are most likely to cause tummy troubles this year?

Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterium that taints seafood and seawater. This bacterium causes illness when it is eaten or enters a cut in the skin. Raw oysters are to blame in the majority of cases. In healthy people, vibrio infection causes gastrointestinal distress; in people with certain pre-existing medical conditions, such as chronic liver disease, infection can be life threatening.

Campylobacter infection is among the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States. The condition affects up to 1.3 million people every year. The main sources of campylobacter infection are raw and undercooked poultry.

Salmonella infection rates have remained relatively stable, but new strains of the bacterium present cause for concern. In the past, salmonella bacteria were most frequently found on the shells of improperly washed eggs, but a new type of salmonella can grow inside sterilized eggs, making it unsafe to eat raw eggs in any form.

Prevent Foodborne Illness

The following food handling practices can help you keep every dish safe to eat.

  • Wash hands with soap before and after handling raw food, including fruits and vegetables.
  • Separate raw foods from cooked or ready-to-eat ones. To prevent cross-contamination, use separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare raw animal products.
  • Cook food thoroughly to kill disease-causing organisms. Do not eat raw shellfish, especially oysters.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  • Resist the temptation to eat raw cookie dough or to allow children to lick bowls or spoons after mixing recipes containing raw eggs.

It is not possible to tell if fish, meat or poultry is completely cooked just by looking at it. You must use a thermometer to check that it has reached a safe internal temperature. All types of poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

Not sure what temperature to aim for? Visit the US Department of Health & Human Services food safety website,, to find proper cooking times, temperatures and procedures for a variety of foods.

Interested in the cooking classes KishHealth System, part of Northwestern Medicine, offers? Visit, click on the “Health & Wellness” tab, and then click on “Healthy Eating.”  

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