Potluck meals are a fun, low-cost way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. They are also linked with the spread of foodborne illness. Follow these tips to keep food safe:
If you or someone in your home has “stomach flu” or symptoms of a foodborne illness, don’t prepare food.
Don’t mix salads, such as potato or a tossed lettuce salad, with your bare hands. Use utensils or wear gloves instead.
To keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower), remove items from the refrigerator just before leaving home and put them in a cooler with ice or a freezer gel pack. Remove hot food items from the oven or cooktop and place in containers such as insulated bags to keep foods hot (140°F or above).
To prevent cross-contamination, cover your car seat with a clean sheet or large towel before placing the food container on it and don’t transport food with animals in your car.
One in six people get food poisoning—also known as a foodborne illness—every year in the United States. Young children, pregnant women, and older adults have a higher risk of foodborne illness.
Pregnant women are at high risk for listeriosis, a type of foodborne illness that causes miscarriage. Lower the risk by doing the following:
Cook meat, seafood, poultry and eggs thoroughly.
Do not eat cold deli meats or hot dogs. Heat sliced deli meats and hot dogs to 165°F or until steaming.
Avoid raw bean sprouts, unpasteurized milk, or cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
Adults ages 60 years and older are at higher risk for foodborne illness because the immune system weakens with age. Likewise, young children are at higher risk because their immune systems haven’t fully developed yet.
Keep everyone safe by following these food safety practices.
Clean: Wash your hands thoroughly. Clean and sanitize food preparation surfaces.
Separate: Keep raw meats apart from other foods that may be eaten without cooking, such as fruits and vegetables.
Cook: Cook foods to the correct temperature. Use this handout on food thermometers, bit.ly/2YXooHu, for more information.
Chill: Don’t leave food out of the fridge for more than two hours.
Salad is a popular summer dish. However, it is also linked with foodborne illness. There are ways to prepare salad safely so that friends and family do not get sick. Salad food safety tips include the following:
Wash your hands! Always wash hands before and after preparing any salad ingredient.
Don’t rewash lettuce that is already prewashed in the package. This can introduce contaminants that were already eliminated.
Use a different knife and cutting board for each ingredient. If you intend to keep salad ingredients separate for people to make their own, you won’t have contaminated all ingredients.
Keep salads cold in a refrigerator, in a cooler, or over ice. Don’t leave out at room temperature for more than two hours. Warmer temperatures (40–140 degrees) can cause bacteria to grow on food and promote illness.
Make sure salad is served with a utensil and not bare hands. Hands carry viruses and bacteria that can cause illness. It is best to use clean and sanitized salad tongs or forks.
Visit Produce Basics (spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/cook/produce-basics) for tips on how to select, store, and wash many types of salad ingredients.
Super Bowl Sunday is fast approaching. The big game is a big day for food. When food sits out at room temperature for long periods of time, the door is open to uninvited guests—bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Every year 48 million people become ill from foodborne illness! Don’t be the cause of a foodborne illness penalty flag! Follow these game day rules:
Keep hot food HOT and cold food COLD: Hot food needs to be held at 140°F or higher. Use slow cookers and warming trays. Cold food needs to be held at 40°F or lower. Nest dishes in bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them as needed.
Follow the two-hour rule: Perishable foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Between the pre- and post-game shows, you may easily have food sitting out 4–6 hours; temperature control is required.
Handle food safely: Always wash your hands before handling food, and clean all surfaces. Use different utensils for each food item and ask guests to use new plates when returning to the food table.
For more information on food safety and cooking temperatures, visit ISU’s food safety website or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
The same general food safety guidelines apply to hot dogs as to all perishable foods: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. When you buy hot dogs, refrigerate or freeze them promptly. Never leave hot dogs at room temperature for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if it is 90 degrees or higher.
Although hot dogs are fully cooked, those at higher risk for foodborne illness—including pregnant women, preschoolers, older adults, and anyone with a weakened immune system—should reheat hot dogs until steaming hot because of the risk of listeriosis. Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that causes listeriosis, may also be found in other foods like luncheon meat, cold cuts, soft cheese, and unpasteurized milk. Symptoms may include fever, chills, headaches, backache, upset stomach, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. It may also cause miscarriages. Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. If you have Listeriosis, your provider can treat you.
To get more people to report foodborne illness or “food poisoning,” the Iowa Department of Public Health recently launched the IowaSic Hotline. Now when you think you ate something that made you sick, you can call 1-844-IowaSic or 1-844-469-2742. A trained specialist will ask you about your symptoms and all the foods you ate recently. If your illness seems related to a food you bought, the Iowa Food and Consumer Safety Bureau will investigate.
By calling IowaSic, you may save others from the misery of foodborne illness—and worse. A food “bug” that makes you only queasy could possibly kill other, more vulnerable people, such as young children and the elderly.
To find out more on what to do if you think you have a foodborne illness, watch this video.
Convenience means different things to different people; to many it means saving time. Food delivered by mail is a popular, convenient gift idea. Because ordering food through the mail may cause concern about food safety, it’s imperative to develop some mental checklists for how both food and packaging should look when it arrives. This is especially true for perishable foods that must be handled in a timely manner to prevent foodborne illness.
The following will help determine if the foods have been handled properly.
Make sure the company meets state or federal requirements for mail delivery.
Make sure the company sends perishable foods with a cold source, such as dry ice.
Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled “Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient. Food should be delivered as quickly as possible – ideally, overnight.
Open packaged food marked “Keep Refrigerated” immediately and check temperature of items:
The food should arrive frozen or with ice crystals still visible or refrigerator cold—below 41°F as measured with a calibrated food thermometer.
Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold.
If perishable food arrives warm — above 41°F, notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste suspect food. Responsible companies will reimburse you or send another package.
Don’t have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available to keep it cold.
If mail order foods arrive in a questionable condition, the following organizations can provide help.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline, weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (1-888-674-6854) (meat, poultry, and egg products)
FDA Outreach and Information Center 1-888-723-3366 weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT (any foods other than meat, poultry, and egg products)