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How to have a safe and healthy holiday party

Listeria bacterium found in cantaloupes in Colorado
Listeria bacterium found in cantaloupes in Colorado
United States Department of Agriculture

Entertaining is fun and exciting. The holiday season is upon us. Everyone will be throwing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s parties. Fall is the perfect time to cook and spend time with friends and family.

Think safety first when planning your parties. Spoiled food is a common health risk. Everyone knows how fast mayonnaise goes bad during summer picnics, but many types of food carry bacteria that can cause food borne illnesses.

Cantaloupes have recently carried the listeria bacterium that killed several people. This was a shock to people thinking that fruit is generally safe to eat. Raw fruits and vegetables carry many food borne illnesses and washing does not always make them safe to eat. Always buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a reliable retailer and wash thoroughly before serving.

Serve fruits and vegetables in a tray placed in a larger dish that contains crushed ice. This will keep any bacteria present from growing during the party. There are commercial washes available that disinfect better than plain water so consider using them. A very simple disinfectant wash is one gallon of water with a tablespoon of bleach added. Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing any food served.

Cook all meat dishes to a temperature recommended by the recipe. Keep hot foods hot in a chafing dish during your party. Never let food stay at room temperature for more than two hours. Serve small platters replenished frequently and keep the main dish hot in the oven. Serve buffet style and include warmers. Check on the food every 30 minutes or so. Set a timer for two hours and remove any food still standing. Replace with fresh hot food.

Be aware of cross contamination of food. Raw foods, especially meats, contaminate other food during contact. Keep meats in a separate wrapped container during shopping. Store foods that may leak in a closed container. Keep vegetables, fruits and meats separated. Wash your hands between different kinds of foods. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are transferred to higher risk food by incidental contamination. Keeping things separated prevents cross contamination.

Refrigeration and cooking slows down bacterial growth, but may not eliminate it. If you are in doubt about the safety of a food, throw it out. Food poisoning is serious in the elderly, the young and anyone that is immunocompromised. Even healthy people get very sick from food borne illnesses. Do not turn your party into a catastrophe.

Symptoms of food poisoning include (but are not limited to):

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • cramping
  • diarrhea

These symptoms appear rapidly, usually within 30 minutes, but can be delayed. If you or your guests show signs of food poisoning, seek medical help immediately. Dehydration is the biggest threat during a food borne illness episode.


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