The holidays are here…and, with them, the festive dishes that we enjoy.

But while holiday meals are something to savor, they also pose a special risk for food contamination.

For instance…

Your unfamiliarity with preparing a turkey might cause you to undercook the meat. Or you might make Christmas dinner with extended family members…who have lower food safety standards than you.

When it comes to surviving food contamination this holiday season, knowledge is power.

Keep on reading for 7 must-know facts on food contamination…

1. Food Contamination Affects Millions Each Year

The first step to avoiding food contamination is recognizing the danger.

According to the FDA, each year, there’s an estimated 48 million instances of foodborne illnesses…and an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

Statistics like these reveal that food poisoning isn’t a third-world problem. It’s a widespread American reality.

It’s also important to understand that contamination issues are related to poor farming practices. To avoid these issues, try to eat locally grown food and buy your meat (and other groceries) from farmers in your geographic region.

Bottom line: when it comes to the safety of your family, take food contamination seriously.

2. Meat Is a Carrier of Food Contaminants

meat on cutting board

Food contamination happens with both vegetables and animal products. However, for this article, we’re looking at the dangers associated with meats.

To see how common it is for meat to pose a risk, just consider news from the last few months…

3. Many Minimum Internal Temperatures Exceed 145℉

Rare steaks and juicy pork chops might sound appealing.

But, while undercooking your meats might increase their flavor, it will also increase your risk of food contamination.

And the last thing you want is watching your Christmas guests spend a miserable holiday in bed…or in the hospital.

According to Foodsafety.gov, many minimum internal temperatures for meats are 145℉ or more. Here are a few examples:

  • Cook a whole turkey to 165℉.
  • Cook fresh pork to 145℉.
  • Cook ground pork to 160℉.
  • Cook steaks to 145℉.

You can view Foodsafety.gov’s entire minimum internal temperature chart here.

4. Cross-Contamination Can Defeat the Goal of Proper Cooking

As you can see, a big goal of properly cooking your meat is avoiding food contamination.

But, if you cross-contaminate your food, you might undo all your careful efforts.

The reality is, cross-contaminating pathogens from meat to the rest of your kitchen is far too easy. Here are some ways this might happen:

  • You use a knife to cut raw meat…then you put that knife on your clean counter.
  • You prepare raw turkey…then you turn on your oven without washing your hands.
  • You place raw meat in the sink to wash it…then you place your vegetables in the same spot without sanitizing the surface first.

This holiday season, wash your hands and any surfaces after they touch any raw meat—each and every time.

5. Some Meats Require a Rest Time

meat on BBQ

Foodsafety.gov indicates that some meats require a rest time after the initial cooking—including steaks, veal roasts, fresh ham, and more.

The reason?

The organization explains that…

“During the rest time, [a meat’s] temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful germs.”

All that to say, do your research on the meat you’ll prepare. And, if needed, allow extra time for the meat to rest—no matter how busy your holiday preparations get.

6. Don’t Leave Meat Out for an Extended Time

Long conversations around the dinner table. Outdoor family football games. An impromptu decision to go for a holiday drive.

When the holidays are in full swing, it’s easy to get distracted. While it’s fine to enjoy this time with friends and family, don’t forget about your meat.

According to Foodsafety.gov, you should refrigerate your meat within two hours.

Otherwise, you’ll risk illnesses from food contamination.

7. If Food Sat Out Too Long, Throw It Away

Heat kills germs.

But if your food sat out too long, don’t depend on boiling that soup or making that turkey sizzle to avoid food contamination.

The reason?

The Washington State Department of Health states that it’s a myth to think that reheating food (that was left unrefrigerated for more than two hours) is acceptable. As the Department explains…

“Some bacteria, such as staphylococcus (staph) and Bacillus cereus, produce toxins not destroyed by high cooking temperatures.”

Play it safe, and dispose of the food. It’s simply not worth a trip to the hospital or days of sickness.

While food contamination is a real danger for the holidays, it’s not your only risk.

Cold and flu viruses can also place a damper on your festivities.

On that note, check out this blog for strategies to avoid the sniffles.