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4 food safety tips every family should know

December 08, 2015,
an older man and woman with their children and grandchildren sit for a holiday meal

Like fresh snow and wrapping presents, overeating is a hallmark of every winter season. According to a 2006 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, most people's caloric intake rises significantly during the winter months. The reason? People have memories tied to holiday celebrations, and consuming food is a way to relive those happy sentiments.

"People's caloric intake rises in the winter months."

Given this dynamic, it's especially important that you and your family always practice proper food consumption. Here are a few handy tips to keep your winter eating habits as healthy as possible:

1. Chill out: Certain foods, including poultry, vegetables, meat and assorted dairy items, should be refrigerated after purchasing. As the Food Safety Information Council pointed out, the faster you get these foods into the fridge, the less chance there is of spoilage. Depending on the food, it doesn't take long before heat and bacterial growth ruin the food, and consumption of these rotten items is among the leading causes of food poisoning. As a rule, you want everything to stay at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're unsure about something, err on the side of caution and toss it out.

2. Don't count on it: So many families rely on a simple tool to defrost frozen items like beef: the kitchen counter. However, as Eating Well pointed out, countertops can actually contribute to the rise of bacteria in certain food items. If you are going to use a countertop, make sure it's for fewer than two hours; otherwise, foods can enter the so-called temperature danger zone - over 41 degrees but under 140 degrees Fahrenheit - in which bacteria begins to multiply. If you need a quick, safe way to defrost, place your meat and poultry in an airtight bag and let it rest in cold water. Just be sure to change the water frequently to ensure it stays properly cold.

3. Sense your food: To tell if food is done, it's always a good idea to have a kitchen thermometer handy. According to ChefSteps, you want to look beyond the brand and instead focus on the overall accuracy of your thermometer. Specifically, you want a response time of no more than 10 seconds. As a result, digital thermometers are almost always the preferred choice. Barring a thermometer, Kraft mentioned that there are several important visual clues to a food's doneness. For instance, meat juice should run clear, not pink, and meat like veal and pork should have a white interior. Finally, the presence of steam is a universal sign the food is properly cooked.

"Leftovers should be cooked at 165 degrees Fahrenheit."

4. Look after your leftovers: With so much cooking taking place every holiday season, leftovers are a natural part of almost anyone's annual celebrations. Many families don't properly consider leftovers, with folks simply reheating corned beef with little thought for safety. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture explained, leftovers should be treated as if you're cooking an ordinary meal. That means, anything left sitting longer than two hours must be tossed immediately. Refrigerate anything you want to save right away, and consume it within four days. When reheating leftovers, cook everything at 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Improperly cooked food can lead to severe bouts of food poisoning. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs of this painful ailment include vomiting, fever and abdominal pains. If you're in pain when you should be celebrating the holidays, you can always visit a CareWell Urgent Care center. With locations across the East Coast, CareWell's team of doctors can help alleviate your symptoms and get you back to your festivities in a snap.

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