Family gatherings, office potlucks, holiday buffets, neighborhood cookie exchanges, church suppers, mail-order food deliveries, gifts of home-preserved foods—from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day (and sometimes beyond), Americans go on what seems like a nonstop food binge.
I’ve always loved the special holiday foods and traditions of late fall and winter that have passed down through my family and the local cultures that shaped me. If I can avoid the over-stuffing—always a struggle. Oh, and also the food poisoning.
Heed these statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick with a foodborne illness; 128,000 require hospitalization, and 3,000 die of these illnesses.
Although summer (picnics, summer camps) is prime time for foodborne illnesses, these diseases spike sharply during the winter holiday season, and noroviruses (“stomach flu”), a family of viruses responsible for half the nation’s foodborne illnesses, are much more common during the winter months. Get the food-safety facts
Honor your holiday food traditions, but don’t rely on the food-preparation, presentation, and storage practices you grew up with. Food-safety science has come a long way since Grandma’s day. Get current science-based information by checking out the many food-safety fact sheets from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Finally, if you’re wondering whether to open the jar of delicious-looking jelly that just arrived with a note from your Aunt Lucy: Made with love from the “mystery berries” Fred and I found on our camping trip to Lake Umbagog last summer, remember the main food-safety rule of thumb: When in doubt, throw it out.