11-28-17 How can you avoid food poisoning during the holidays?

                       Toxicology Question of the Week

November 28, 2017

How can you avoid food poisoning during the holidays?

Getting holiday meals just right puts a generous amount of pressure on even the most experienced chef. Unsurprisingly, this time of year is associated with an increased incidence of food poisoning.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year an estimated 48 million people (about 1 in 6) contract a foodborne illness, with approximately 128,000 requiring hospitalization and 3,000 dying. America’s poison centers help manage tens of thousands of cases involving suspected food poisoning each year.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms typically appear hours after eating contaminated food but may be delayed by days depending on the pathogen involved. Most cases are mild and resolve without medical care. However, some may develop severe illness and require hospitalization, especially those who are more likely to get sick such as young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Thankfully, there are a few simple food safety precautions that can help prevent food poisoning:


  • Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards with hot soapy water frequently, especially after handling uncooked food and before touching or eating other foods.
  • Do not wash eggs, meat, or poultry as this can spread harmful bacteria.
  • Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods.
  • Use the microwave, cold water, or refrigerator to defrost your frozen meat or poultry.


  • Use a quick-response thermometer to make sure foods are thoroughly cooked or reheated.
  • The safest way to cook stuffing is outside of the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you cook stuffing inside the turkey, stuff the turkey just before cooking, and make sure the stuffing reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.


  • The bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40 and 140 Fahrenheit. Refrigerate leftovers promptly (within 2 hours) at 40 F or below to reduce bacterial growth.
  • After eating, take the remaining meat off the turkey and store in the refrigerator. Don’t put the entire carcass into the refrigerator – it won’t cool down quickly enough.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by completely and securely covering foods in the refrigerator.
  • Consume of freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.

If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, including:

  • High fever (temperature over 101.5 F, orally)
  • Blood in stools or vomit
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration such as marked decrease in urination, a very dry mouth/throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

If you have any questions about how to prevent food poisoning, the symptoms of food poisoning, or if you or someone you know suspects food poisoning, call the poison center (1-800-222-1222).

This Question was prepared by: Justin Loden, PharmD, CSPI (Certified Specialist in Poison Information)

I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at donna.seger@vanderbilt.edu

Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center


Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222

The Question of the Week is available on our website: www.tnpoisoncenter.org