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Foodborne illness can happen, even to those with the best intentions. This holiday season, don’t let Great Aunt Betty’s stuffing make you or your loved ones sick.

Rather, do what you can to ensure the food you prepare is safe from salmonella and other bacteria and encourage your family members – like Great Aunt Betty – to do the same.

Bacteria, those microscopic organisms that are present in just about everything, can grow in undesirable ways on food that isn’t kept at the correct temperature or that was prepared on dirty surfaces or by people who are ill. That sort of bacteria in food can make us sick – think trips to the bathroom. That’s no way to celebrate a holiday.

So this holiday season, make sure you and others contributing to your holiday feast follow these guidelines for preventing foodborne illness: 

  • CLEAN. Wash hands and surfaces often. This includes cutting boards and utensils, fruits and vegetables.
  • SEPARATE. Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other food. Bag meat separately in plastic. Store raw meat and eggs on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
  • COOK. To kill harmful bacteria, cook poultry, stuffed meats and casseroles to 165°F, fish, shellfish, beef, pork and lamb to 145°F and hamburger and sausage to 160°F. Use a food thermometer. 
  • CHILL. Refrigerate promptly; cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. 

Having a turkey? Keep these tips in mind: 

  • It takes 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of bird to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Never defrost a turkey on the counter. 
  • It’s best to cook the stuffing in a separate dish, but if you must stuff the bird, do so immediately before the turkey goes into the oven. 
  • Cook both stuffing and turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F. 
  • Stash the extra turkey and other food within two hours. Carve extra meat from the bones and store it in shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer. 
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days. Frozen leftovers will keep for 3-4 months. 

Mesa County Health Department’s Consumer Protection program is responsible for nearly 800 licensed retail food establishments in Mesa County. The Health Department also works to share food safety information with citizens who prepare meals in their homes.