Food Safety Tips to Keep You Healthy Over the Holidays

The CDC estimates that each year roughly one out of six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food borne diseases. In 2011, the CDC has engaged with state and local public health partners in the investigation of 165 outbreaks and clusters of illness.

Most food borne outbreaks are local and many result from food being contaminated when it is being prepared or served by unwashed or improperly washed hands. Scientific evidence shows that preventing illness begins with the basics. Stay safe this holiday season by following these back to basics tips.

The CDC breaks the basics down into four main groups: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. We're going to break it down for you.

CDC steps

Clean

Why it Matters

Illness-causing bacteria can survive all over your kitchen. This includes your hands, cooking utensils, and cutting boards.
It's important to wash everything the right way or you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family. Yuck!

Here's How and When to Do It

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running warm or cool water. Rubs your hands together to lather up. Scrub the backs of your hands, in-between your fingers, and under your nails! Bacteria is sneaky! If you don't feel like counting to twenty, you can always hum "Happy Birthday" from start to finish, twice. Rinse your hands well and try using a clean towel or air dry.

When to Wash: This list might seem elementary, but you'd be surprised! You and your family should wash before eating food; before, during and after preparing food; treating a cut or wound; after caring for someone sick; after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry, seafood or their juices; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching an animal or their waste; after touching garbage; and of course, after using the toilet.

Wash surfaces and utensils after each use. You can use paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. You'll want to wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. This might seem like overkill, but better safe than sorry! When you're all done cooking, as an extra precaution, you can create a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils. There are greener solutions, too that you can use if you have allergies to bleach, or simply don't like bleach.

Wash your fruits and veggies but don't wash meat, poultry, or eggs! Even if you peel fruits and veggies you should always wash them because bacteria (and chemicals) can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel them. Double yuck!

Why aren't you supposed to wash meat, poultry, and eggs? Washing raw meat and poultry helps bacteria spread, because their juices could splash onto and contaminate your sink and countertops. Commercial eggs are washed before they are sold. Any extra handling of the eggs, such as washing, could actually increase the risk of cross-contamination, especially if the shell becomes cracked.

Keep it Separated

Why it Matters

Even if you've washed your hands, and cleaned your surfaces like we just suggested, unless you keep ready-to-eat foods separate from raw foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, you can still spread those nasty illness-causing bacteria. They are more than happy to propagate right there on your cutting board.

Here's How and When to Do It

Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Here is how you stop cross-contamination: 1) Use one cutting board for fresh produce and another for raw meat, poultry or seafood; 2) You can consider using specially designated plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods; 3) Always thoroughly wash your plates, utensils and cutting boards as we suggested above; 4) If your cutting board is wearing out, or has developed hard-to-clean grooves, it might be time to invest in a new one.