There are approximately 76 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year. These diseases spread easiest at holiday times, as people prepare dishes for large gatherings, using many different utensils and types of food, and have more cooks than usual in the kitchen. With Thanksgiving coming up, state health officials remind everyone to practice food safety tips when preparing their holiday meal.

 “We want people to be alert as they prepare food for the holidays, because although most cases of food poisoning result in only a mild illness, severe infections and serious complications can occur,” said Department of Health Secretary Dr. Fred Cerise.

Foodborne diseases include infections caused by certain types of bacteria and parasites. These organisms can be found in a wide range of foods, such as meat, seafood, dairy products and fresh produce.

Cerise said the most important precaution in preventing foodborne illness is not allowing food to become contaminated with bacteria as it is being prepared. This means people should wash their hands frequently during food preparation and should be especially careful to keep raw meat from touching or dripping onto other food.

The LDH Office of Public Health offers the following food safety tips for Thanksgiving cooking:

  • Bacteria are often present in raw foods. Fully cook meats and poultry to the proper temperatures and thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water before preparing, serving or eating food.
  • Never put a spoon used to taste food back into the food without washing it.
  • Get perishable foods into the refrigerator as quickly as possible after buying them.
  • Keep foods heated and cooled properly to minimize bacterial growth.
  • Thaw frozen foods in a manner that inhibits bacterial growth, such as in the refrigerator on a tray to catch drainage, under cold running and continuously draining water, in the microwave if the food is cooked immediately after, or as part of a continuous cooking process.
  • Keep your kitchen or food preparation areas clean.
  • Wash platters, utensils, cutting boards and other food preparation equipment in between uses of cooked and raw foods or different types of foods.
  • Common symptoms of foodborne illnesses include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, headache, vomiting and severe exhaustion. Symptoms may occur as early as a half-hour after eating the contaminated food or they may not develop for several days or weeks. Symptoms will vary depending upon the type and the amount of bacteria ingested. When severe symptoms occur, individuals should seek medical attention immediately.