DECATUR – Forget the ugly sweaters, nothing turns a holiday gathering south faster than a sour stomach from eggnog that’s been sitting out too long. 

The Centers for Disease Control estimated that 76 million people become sick from their foodborne illnesses each year. Whether it’s too many cooks in the kitchen, the challenge of specialty dishes or a lack of refrigerator space, the risk for illness causing bacteria increases with holiday spreads.

“Holidays are a time of celebration and joy, but holiday feasts can be tricky; home chefs are often preparing a meal they don’t normally cook, and they’re preparing it for a larger group than usual,” said Dr. Michael Wahl, the Illinois Poison Center medical director.

Wahl recommended holiday cooks follow four rules in the kitchen: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean

Every person handling the food should wash their hands. Keep preparation and storage areas, including counter tops, stove tops and refrigerators clean. With flu season widespread in Illinois, Poison Center said no one who is sick or has any nose or eye infection should prepare food.

Separate

Use separate cutting boards for meats, poultry and fish to avoid cross contaminating other foods. Never re-use utensils without washing them, because dirty utensils can be a source of contamination.

Cook

When cooking and serving, the foods to be most concerned about are the temperature are meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dressing, gravy, cream pies, pudding and dishes made with these foods.

“One of the biggest sources of foodborne illness during the holidays is salmonella from handling turkey and other poultry,” Wahl said in a news release. “Salmonella bacteria can result from raw or undercooked poultry, and may be particularly harmful to people in poor health, young children and the elderly.”

Dishes with raw or undercooked eggs are also dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and those with chronic disease.

Chill

Never leave hot foods out at room temperature for more than two hours. Put small quantities of food on the table. Replace them often from the heat sources in the kitchen or from the refrigerator, according the Texas A&M University System’s food safety guidelines for holiday entertaining.

If unsure about how long perishable food, particularly meat, poultry and dairy have been left out, throw the items away to eliminate your risk of illness according to the Illinois Poison Center.

Divide large quantities of foods into smaller portions and store them in covered, shallow containers, Deep containers keep food warm longer and encourage bacterial growth.

People who develop food poisoning may experience symptoms that include nausea, fever, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea, Symptoms may last from several hours to several days.

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