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DENVER -- To avoid getting food poisoning this holiday season, state health officials Wednesday reminded Coloradans about the importance of properly handling and preparing foods.
Jeff Lawrence, the food safety program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Consumer Protection Division, said that the most frequent causes of foodborne illnesses are improper cooling of foods; lack of adequate hand washing; and preparation of ready- to-eat foods with contaminated utensils. Other causes include improper cooking temperatures.
Lawrence said, "By following simple safety precautions, holiday parties and meals will be safe and enjoyable for all."
He provided the following tips for keeping foods safe:
-- Cool all leftovers to 41 degrees F or lower within four hours after cooking is complete. Do not leave foods containing meat, milk, eggs, fish or poultry at room temperature for more than the four-hour limit. This includes pumpkin or other custard pies that are popular during the holidays.
-- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water before food preparation and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing or eating, drinking or smoking.
-- Thoroughly clean and sanitize knives, cutting boards and other utensils before and after preparing raw foods and foods that do not require further cooking. A sanitizing solution can be prepared using one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops.
-- Buy a cooking thermometer and use it. Turkey and stuffing should be cooked thoroughly to 165 degrees F and ham to 145 degrees F or above before serving. Recipes requiring eggs must be cooked thoroughly to 135 degrees F or above. If egg dishes do not require cooking, such as homemade eggnog, use pasteurized egg products instead of shelled eggs.
-- Do not thaw foods at room temperature. Plan enough time to thaw them in the refrigerator. See thaw times for turkeys below:
4 to 12 pounds - 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds - 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds - 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds - 5 to 6 days
-- Do not prepare or handle foods if you are already ill to avoid spreading the illness to others sharing the meal.
Source: Colorado Department of Health