Tips for a Healthy and Happy Holiday Season

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With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the Cook County Department of Public Health has tips to ensure everyone has a healthy holiday!

Holiday celebrations bring family and friends together, but being in close contact with loved ones who may be under the weather can spread influenza and other illnesses.

Avoid hugging or kissing someone who is coughing or sneezing. Be sure to wash your hands regularly and try not to touch your face.  Excess stress can also make you more vulnerable to getting sick. Try to stay hydrated and get enough rest so you are best able to fight off illnesses.

“The influenza vaccine is also a key step to staying healthy during the holidays,” said Dr. Terry Mason, Chief Operating Officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.  You can get a vaccine at your primary care doctor’s office or most local pharmacies.

Foodborne illnesses, like salmonella and E. coli, can also cause severe illness. There are some basic food safety protocols that holiday cooks can take to ensure that they and their guests have a safe Thanksgiving meal.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during and after cooking. This is especially important when handling raw poultry, meat or seafood,” Dr. Mason said. “You should also keep raw meats separate from other foods at all times—whether that’s in your cart at the grocery store or while using a cutting board, plates or utensils.”

Taking these measures can help prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating the food you’re making.

Dr. Mason said if you’re buying a frozen turkey, it’s best to thaw it in the refrigerator for a few days before cooking.  It takes about 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey to thaw.  But if you forget to do this, you can also thaw the turkey in cold water, as long as you change the water out every 30 minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Mason reminds home cooks not to rinse off their turkey after it is defrosted.

“Bacteria that is in or on a turkey can’t be washed off.  Attempting to wash the turkey can contaminate other areas, like your sink or your countertop, with harmful pathogens, so rising it could actually do more harm than good,” he said.  “The only way to eliminate bacteria is to make sure the turkey is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends testing the temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer at three locations: the thickest part of the breast and the innermost parts of the wing and thigh. Deep frying your bird? Take care to follow all fire precautions to prevent grease fires and burn injuries.

Dr. Mason also advised that when putting out food to serve, make sure hot foods are kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, and cold foods are kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.  After you’re done eating your holiday meal, put perishable leftovers in the fridge within two hours to keep bacteria from developing.