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This holiday season, the Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourage consumers to avoid foodborne illnesses – and a trip to the hospital – by taking appropriate precautions in handling, preparing and cooking foods.

Since Jan. 1, CCPHSD has registered 131 cases of enteric diseases in Coconino County. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) defines enteric – meaning “intestinal” – diseases as “infections characterized by diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting.” Contaminated food is a primary cause of these diseases.

CCPHSD further reported that “The most common reportable diseases among Coconino County residents from 2013-17 were campylobacteriosis (37 percent), salmonellosis (28 percent), and cryptosporidiosis (11 percent),” with summer months having the highest number of reported enteric disease cases.

According to ADHS, campylobacteriosis is most often caused by handling or eating raw or undercooked poultry, while salmonellosis – caused by the bacteria “Salmonella” – is often caused by eating contaminated eggs, fruits, vegetables or milk. Cryptosporidiosis can be spread if someone who is ill does not wash their hands well after using the restroom and then handles food for someone else.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food. To reduce the risk of contracting an enteric disease, the CDC has outlined four basic steps of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

  • Clean: Wash hands, counter tops, sponges, utensils and all other surfaces – including cutting boards – before and after food preparation.
  • Separate: Keep foods separated to avoid cross-contamination. Wash hands and all surfaces after contact with raw meats, poultry and eggs, especially.
  • Cook: In order to kill harmful bacteria, foods must be heated to the proper internal temperature and maintain that temperature for at least 15 seconds. Beef, ham and fish must be cooked to at least 145 degrees, ground meat to at least 160 degrees, poultry to at least 165 degrees and eggs until both the yolk and white are firm. All leftovers and casseroles must be cooked to at least 165 degrees.
  • Chill: Improper refrigeration can cause harmful bacteria to grow and multiply. Divide leftovers into smaller, uncovered portions so they will cool more quickly before chilling. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees and freezers at zero degrees. Use a thermometer to check the accuracy and adjust accordingly. Food that has been in the refrigerator for more than a week should be discarded. The CDC saying is “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Thanksgiving turkeys can be a major source of poultry-associated foodborne disease outbreaks. If handled properly, though, friends and family have no need to fear this holiday meal celebrity.

Proper thawing is essential to turkey preparation. Do not leave frozen turkeys on the counter; bacteria grow quickly in this “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees. Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator in a container or in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. For microwave thawing, follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions.

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Both the turkey and its stuffing must be cooked thoroughly to avoid contamination. Place the turkey in a roasting pan at least 2 inches deep and fill with stuffing just before cooking. Bake at a minimum of 325 degrees. Cooking time will vary by weight.

According to CCPHSD, “A 18- to 22-pound turkey (without stuffing) takes 3½ to 4 hours to cook. With stuffing, allow 3¾ to 4½ hours to cook.”

Verify with a meat thermometer that the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh and wing joints are at least 165 degrees. Leave the stuffing in the turkey for 20 minutes after it is removed from the oven to allow additional cooking.

Although Coconino County’s year-to-date reported enteric disease cases are currently below year-end numbers in 2016, reported cases as of Nov. 16 already exceed the county’s five-year average for the month. The CCPHSD hopes to reduce the number of future cases by encouraging all consumers to not only be aware of food safety practices, but to make them a priority this holiday season.

For more information about food safety, visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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