Food Safety Tips for a Happy Holiday Season

hot cocoa and cookiesWhether you are celebrating at home or dining out, there are simple steps you can take to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy this holiday season.

Preparing a holiday meal at home? Prevent foodborne illness by washing hands and surfaces frequently, avoiding cross-contamination, cooking foods to proper temperatures, and refrigerating foods promptly. If you are cooking a holiday turkey, follow these four tips to take the guesswork out of preparation:

  1. Thawing: Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water (changed every 30 minutes), or in a microwave. Frozen turkeys are safe indefinitely, but thawing turkeys must defrost at a safe temperature. Turkeys left out for more than two hours at room temperature can creep into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.
  1. Handling: It’s flu season! Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs, using soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria from raw poultry, too. Don’t forget to also thoroughly wash utensils and work surfaces to protect your food and family!
  1. Stuffing: If you stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and possibly cause food poisoning, so use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches this temperature. For optimum safety, cook your stuffing in a casserole dish for even cooking.
  1. Cooking: Set your oven to at least 325°F, and place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a 2 to 2-1/2 inch deep roasting pan. Cooking times will vary depending on weight, so use a food thermometer inserted into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint to make sure the bird has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

Dining out? Follow these four tips from CDC to prevent food poisoning:

  1. Check inspection s online for the restaurant you plan to go to. Restaurant inspection data for Virginia is available by health district here.
  2. Make sure that the restaurant is clean. If not, you may want to visit a different establishment.
  3. Check that your food is cooked thoroughly, and send back any undercooked food as it may contain harmful bacteria if not cooked adequately.
  4. Properly handle leftovers by refrigerating within 4 hours of eating. Eat leftovers within 3 to 4 days from purchase.

For more information, check out CDC’s blog for more Holiday Food Safety Tips and Food Safety Tips for Your Holiday Turkey.

Get Your Flu Shot!

miss the fluBy now, you probably know that it is recommended that everyone 6 months of age or older receive a flu vaccination each year. While it’s best to get your flu shot as soon as it is available (sometimes as early as August)! Flu season usually peaks in January or February and continues through May. Getting a flu shot is not only the single best way to protect yourself from getting sick, it’s also the best way to prevent the spread of flu to others.

Help us make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation by getting a flu shot and encouraging your friends and family to get one as well.

It is important to get a flu shot even if you had one last year. Your immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the best protection against the flu.

The flu is a serious disease, especially for certain age groups and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as:

  • Children younger than five, but especially younger than two years old
  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Women who are pregnant or just had a baby
  • People with chronic health conditions

Remember, a flu shot cannot cause illness.

To find out where to get a flu shot in your area, contact your local health department or use the vaccine finder. And visit our Miss The Flu page for more information on how to miss the flu, not your life!

Be Food Safe This Holiday Season

food safety graphicFood safety is important for keeping your holiday gathering happy and healthy. However, food safety can be a challenge during the holiday season. Group gatherings may include more dishes than there is room for in the refrigerator or oven. Guest lists may also include those who are more vulnerable to illness, such as older people, young children, and pregnant women.

Follow these tips for a food-safe, happy holiday season:

Happy Handling

  • It’s flu season! Wash your hands well to prevent the spread of germs, using soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria from raw poultry, too.
  • Wash all fresh produce to reduce the potential for bacterial contamination.
  • Don’t forget to also wash utensils and work surfaces to protect your food and family!

Let’s Talk Turkey

Follow the tips in the infographic (right) to make sure your turkey is both delicious and safe to serve.

Cooking for a large group?

  • Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes that include raw meat. Also, store uncooked items out of the way while preparing meat dishes. These steps will help to reduce cross-contamination.
  • Cook to the proper temperature, and use a thermometer!
  • Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold! Use chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should stay above 140 ˚F, and cold items should stay below 40 ˚F.
  • Discard perishable foods left out for 2 hours or more. Plan to refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours of preparation.

Eating Out?

Follow these four tips from CDC to prevent food poisoning:

  1. Check inspections online for the restaurant you plan to go to. Restaurant inspection data for Virginia is available by health district here.
  2. Make sure that the restaurant is clean. If not, you may want to visit a different establishment.
  3. Check that your food is completely cooked. Send back any undercooked food, as it may contain harmful bacteria.
  4. Refrigerate leftovers within 4 hours of eating. Eat leftovers within 3 to 4 days from purchase.

View our My Meal Detective videos to learn how to prevent and report foodborne illness. For more information on general food safety, visit the VDH Food Safety page and:

CDC- Food Safety Tips for the Holidays and Tips for Your Holiday Turkey

FDA- Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays

FightBAC.org- Holiday Food Safety Resources (includes recipes and kids games and activities)

FoodSafety.gov- Thanksgiving and Winter Holidays

USDA- Seasonal Food Safety

Antibiotics Awareness Week – November 12th-18th

This important week alerts individuals to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance – a serious public health issue – and urges everyone to use antibiotics appropriately.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria in your body are able to fight the drugs designed to kill them. The antibiotics become useless, and the harmful bacteria are still in your body.

How does antibiotic resistance occur?

Resistance happens when you are exposed to antibiotics inappropriately or over and over again.

How can I protect myself?

Use antibiotics appropriately! This means only taking antibiotics that are prescribed to you, and to take your antibiotics exactly as they are prescribed. It is also important that you do not take antibiotics for infections caused by viruses, because antibiotics do not kill viruses. Some common infections caused by viruses are the common cold, the flu, and most sore throats.

To raise awareness for this week, the Healthcare-Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance (HAI/AR) team at VDH challenged nurses across Virginia to join the fight by studying educational material about antibiotic resistance and completing a quiz to test their knowledge. This initiative was designed to help your nurses protect you from antibiotic resistance. The challenge will wrap up on November 15th. Keep an eye out on the VDH social media pages for results!

The HAI/AR team also released a special edition newsletter about Antibiotics Awareness Week, which spotlights hospital systems committed to reducing antibiotic resistance.

We hope you will use the resources provided in the above links to arm yourselves with information and do your part to reduce antibiotic resistance!

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence, also known as intimate partner violence, happens to women and men. Intimate partner violence includes:

  • physical violence,
  • sexual violence,
  • threats of physical or sexual violence,
  • stalking and
  • emotional or psychological abuse

by a current or former intimate partner. This type of violence can happen to anyone, even if you aren’t sexually intimate. It can range from a single episode of violence to severe episodes over many years.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Virginia Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-838-8238 or the LGBTQ Partner Abuse and Sexual Assault Helpline, 1-800-356-6998. If you are not able to call you can text, 804-793-9999. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Tricks and Treats for Having a Food Safe Halloween

Avoid the real horrors of Halloween by learning how to keep you and your family members safe from foodborne illness. Follow these tips to scare away food safety hazards:

  • Remind kids (and adults!) to wash their hands before and after enjoying their Halloween treats.
  • Going trick or treating?
    • Inspect candy before eating. Look for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance, discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers.
    • If your child has a food allergy, check food labels to make sure the allergen is not present.
  • Hosting a Halloween party?
    • Prevent frightful bacteria from multiplying by keeping foods at the right temperature. Don’t keep perishable foods out for more than two hours at room temperature (or 1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
    • If you bake Halloween treats, don’t taste dough and batters that contain uncooked eggs. These items may harbor Salmonella, bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Salmonella live on both the outside and inside of normal-looking eggs.
    • Beware of spooky cider! Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as coli and Salmonella. Serve products labeled as pasteurized to keep these bacteria from creeping up on you.
    • Say “boo” to bacteria during a bobbing for apples game. Rinse apples and other raw fruits under cool running water, and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.

View our My Meal Detective videos to learn how to prevent and report foodborne illness. For more information on general food safety, visit the VDH Food Safety page and:

CDC- Food Safety

FDA- Halloween Food Safety Tips for Parents

Fight BAC!- Halloween Food Safety How-To

FoodSafety.gov- Avoid “Nightmares” on Halloween: Food Safety Tips

StateFoodSafety.com- Food Safety Talkabout: Halloween

Prescription Drug Take-Back Day October 27

Pills spilling out of pill bottle on blue background. with copy space. Medicine conceptVirginia will participate Saturday, October 27, 2018 in the fourteenth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. If you have unused, expired or unwanted medications, drop them off at a collection site in your area from 10am-2pm, no questions asked. Drop off is free and anonymous.

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. When you have unused or expired medications lying around, they could fall into the wrong hands and be abused. And flushing medications down the toilet is dangerous to public health. Dropping your medications off at a collection site is a quick and safe way to make sure they are disposed of properly.

Learn more

Rabies Awareness

September 24-September 30 is Rabies Awareness Week in Virginia. Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, and is most commonly found in wild animals, such as raccoons, foxes and skunks. Virginia’s Rabies Awareness Week centers around World Rabies Day, which falls this year on September 28.

There are many ways you can prevent and control the spread of rabies:

  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control department and do not approach it.
  • Contact your local health department if you think you or your pet may have been exposed.

Do Your Part- Be Septic Smart!

One quarter of U.S. homes have septic systems. It’s important to maintain your system to protect your home, health, environment and property value. The Environmental Protection Agency offers many tips.

At VDH, the Division of Onsite Sewage and Water Services program protects public health and ground water quality through its wastewater program. Read more about the office.

Protect Your Pipes

Think at the Sink