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Avoiding Foodborne Illness During the Holidays (and Rest of the Year)

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Brandi Goodman

Foodborne Illness

Staying healthy throughout the holiday season ensures you can enjoy more of it. One of the best ways to prevent illness is following food safety rules in and out of the kitchen, thereby eliminating the possibility of foodborne illness. Keep these rules in mind during the festive time of year and every month thereafter to keep yourself in the best health and spirits possible.

What Is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness refers to food poisoning. It is sickness caused by harmful foods that have not been cooked, stored, or handled properly. Often, there is bacterial growth that is toxic to the body and causes severe discomfort. What may begin as abdominal pain often quickly leads to nausea, vomiting, and worse. Unpasteurized milk, undercooked meats, and unwashed vegetables are some of the most common culprits.

How Many People Are Affected By Foodborne Illness?

Each year, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die in the United States due to foodborne illness. That’s only a fraction of the total 48 million people who experience food poisoning annually. Those are huge numbers. It’s a public health crisis that requires more consideration than it probably gets. With more caution used, preventing foodborne illness in so many people can be achieved. But you have to be active; it doesn’t happen passively.

How to Prepare, Store, and Consume Large Holiday Meals

If you plan on concocting a large holiday meal for multiple people, it’s important to follow proper preparation, storage, and consumption protocols. You don’t want your holiday meal to lead to illness for all of your friends and family. Before beginning your food preparation, always wash your hands. Be sure to use hot, soapy water and count to a full 20 seconds to ensure they are clean. Your dishes should also be freshly washed.


Two of the most important things you can do during preparation are wash your fruits and veggies and cook your foods to the right temperature. Unwashed and undercooked foods are more likely to lead to illness. Consuming raw chicken that has not been cooked to its proper temperature of 165 degrees, for example, is one of the leading causes of food poisoning.


Storing food also requires careful consideration. Cross contamination is possible when the wrong foods are sitting next to each other inside the fridge. Everything should be kept in clean, dry containers or bags. Raw foods should be kept on the bottom shelf, away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods. You never want raw food on the top shelf, as it is more likely to drip juices onto the items below it. You also want to ensure you are only storing foods for the correct number of days. Raw meats, such as sausage, chicken, ground beef, and pork, tend to only store well for a day or two. Cooked meats may last another day or two on top of this, but it’s always best to cook or eat things quickly after they’ve been stored. Leftovers should not be left too long; eat them as soon as you can.


Never consume foods past their expiration or storage dates. It is also best not to consume foods that have been sitting out for an extended time. Generally, food must be put away within two hours of purchase or cooking. Any longer than this, and the possibility of bacteria growth is already prevalent. If there are hot dishes sitting out, they must remain in a warmer and kept at the correct temperature. Otherwise, they should be refrigerated or thrown out before the two-hour timeframe is up.

How Long Can You Keep Leftovers?

You should never store leftovers for more than a few days unless you are freezing them. While foods such as hard-cooked eggs may last for a full week in the fridge, most go bad after just three to five days. If you’re ever in doubt of how long food has been left in your refrigerator, just throw them out and do not chance any illness. It’s best to follow cold storage guidelines for each specific food type. If you know you will not be able to eat your leftovers in these timeframes, then freeze them so they can be used later. Many foods only last a couple of days in the fridge yet a couple of months or longer in the freezer.

Tips to Avoid Cross-Contamination

You always want to avoid cross contamination. Certain foods touching, both before cooking and while being stored, can lead to the spread of bacteria. Even using the same serving utensils for one product and then another can cause problems. For the safest solution, keep all ingredients from touching before cooking them and use different serving utensils for each one. Keep them stored separately in the refrigerator as well. This is particularly important when it comes to produce and meat or fish.

How Can I Eat Healthy Through Holiday Parties and Potlucks?

A holiday party doesn’t have to automatically mean gorging on unhealthy foods and gaining weight. As long as you limit your consumption, stick to water for your drink of choice, and find the healthiest dishes available, you can maintain your healthy habits. If you’re heading to a potluck, be the one to bring a dish that’s healthy so you know you’ll have a nutritious choice for yourself and others.

What Should You Avoid Eating at a Potluck?

When you’re at a potluck, avoid standing near the table the whole night. The closer you are to the food, the more likely you are to grab at your leisure and not pay as much attention to what you’re eating. Get your food and walk away to a different area so you are no longer near it. Remove yourself from the temptation.

Do your best to pick the healthiest foods at the table. Avoid eating all of the sugary desserts. Do not overload your plate with heaping scoops of side dishes. You want to have protein, and fruits and veggies for the bulk of your meal. If you do want to try some of the other selections, just take a spoonful or two of each and don’t overdo it.

Maintain Healthy Eating Habits and Chiropractic Care for Optimal Well-Being

No one wants to be sick from a foodborne or any other illness, especially during the holidays. Being sick the rest of the year is no picnic, either. Whether it’s a Christmas buffet or a summertime picnic, it’s always best to maintain healthy eating habits so you can keep your body in the best shape possible and avoid feeling unwell.

Pair those habits with routine chiropractic care and you’ll be well on your way to optimal wellness. The Joint Chiropractic provides adjustments at an affordable cost so your body can be flexible and as able as possible to help you lead a healthy life.

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