Don’t Let Foodborne Illness Ruin Your Holiday Party

Ah, the holiday season—a time for joy, merriment, and, unfortunately, an uptick in foodborne illnesses. As we gather with loved ones and indulge in festive feasts, it's crucial to be mindful of potential health hazards lurking on the holiday table. Here, we delve into the four most common types of foodborne illnesses associated with holiday parties and arm you with essential knowledge to safeguard your well-being.

Every year in the U.S. about 1 in 6 people get sick from foodborne illnesses. That's around 48 million people total, with 128,000 becoming hospitalized. We typically see more outbreaks during November and December during the holidays.

Why Does Food Poisoning Happen During the Holidays?

This time of year brings parties and gatherings with delicious, elaborate meals that go along with them. In most cases, foods are set out for all to enjoy over the course of the party, which may last several hours.

When food is left at room temperature, it becomes a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Between 40°F and 140°F (known as the “danger zone”), bacteria grows quickly.

Left for more than two hours, your party food is likely to harbor bacteria that have multiplied to harmful levels, resulting in a big risk that you or your guests might get sick.

Read: 12 Antimicrobials To Help You Stay Well This Winter

Common Illnesses from Holiday Feasts

What foods are most likely to harbor illness-causing bacteria, and what types of bacteria are they?

Norovirus: The Stomach Bug

Source: Contaminated food, water, or surfaces.

The norovirus, infamous for crashing holiday parties, is the most common cause of foodborne illness with an uptick of cases in the winter months (1). This virus invites itself through contaminated food, water, or surfaces, and is highly contagious.

It's often called the "stomach bug" or "cruise ship virus" because it's common in crowded environments, and it spreads quickly in close quarters—like around your dinner table.

Symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps, usually join the revelry within 12 to 48 hours post-exposure.

Guard against norovirus by meticulous hand washing, avoiding contact with the sick, and ensuring food safety practices, particularly when handling raw produce. Avoid sharing utensils, and if you’re feeling sick, it’s best to stay home to avoid spreading this virus to others.

Related: How to Heal Your Gut After a Round of Antibiotics

Clostridium perfringens: Bad News for the Buffet

Source: Large batch-cooked food like casseroles, gravies, and stews.

This bacteria loves a holiday buffet, especially in large-batch cooked dishes. The symptoms, typically diarrhea and abdominal cramps, make a grand entrance within 6 to 24 hours after consumption. Combat Clostridium perfringens by reheating leftovers to a steaming 165°F (74°C) and refrigerating large portions promptly. And try not to store that large casserole dish directly in the fridge.

Clostridium perfringens is the second most common culprit behind food borne illness. It’s a bacterium usually acquired from raw meat, poultry, and fish. This bacteria produces enterotoxins which can cause diarrhea or in more serious cases, inflammation of the intestine. The bacteria also produces spores, which protect it from some cooking processes (2). So if food (like raw turkey) contaminated with C. perfringens is left to sit out, there’s a high likelihood it will cause symptoms.

Learn about becoming a new patient

Salmonella: Beware the Undercooked Poultry

Source: Raw or undercooked poultry, eggs, and unwashed produce.

Salmonella, the uninvited guest at many holiday gatherings, causes a symphony of digestive distress. Symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, can occur anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days after indulging in contaminated fare. Prevent this unwelcome guest by ensuring poultry reaches a safe internal temperature (165°F or 74°C), avoiding cross-contamination, and practicing impeccable hand hygiene.

You should also ensure that any food preparation surfaces are cleaned thoroughly and regularly.

You might like: Fight the Flu with ‘Good’ Bacteria

E. coli: Beware the Undercooked Beef

Source: Undercooked ground beef and contaminated water.

The E. coli bacterium loves to make an appearance during the holidays, often through undercooked ground beef or contaminated water. Most types of E. coli are actually harmless, and a part of the human digestive tract, alongside many other types of bacteria. Some types, however, can cause problems (3). Symptoms, including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting, appear around 2 to 8 days after exposure. Counter E. coli by cooking ground beef to a safe internal temperature (160°F or 71°C), avoiding raw milk, and opting for pasteurized juices.

You should also wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming them.

Tips for a Healthy Holiday Celebration

  1. Practice Safe Cooking: Ensure meats reach safe internal temperatures, and avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for raw meat and produce.
  2. Hand Hygiene: Execute the hand washing routine like a pro, especially after handling raw meat, using the restroom, or touching surfaces that may harbor bacteria.
  3. Savor Safe Seafood: If seafood graces your holiday table, ensure it’s cooked thoroughly, and opt for reputable sources to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  4. Mindful Mingle: Steer clear of crowded holiday gatherings if you’re feeling under the weather, and encourage others to do the same.
  5. Reheat Right: When warming up leftovers, ensure they reach a thorough and uniform internal temperature to vanquish any lurking bacteria.
  6. Divide and Conquer: If preparing large quantities of food, divide them into smaller portions before refrigerating to hasten the cooling process.
  7. Chill with Speed: Refrigerate cooked dishes swiftly—within two hours—to inhibit the growth of pathogens.

Remedies for Food Poisoning Symptoms

For most people, the best remedy for food poisoning is plenty of rest and hydration. The bacteria or virus will typically work its way out of your system after 24 hours to a couple days.

In the meantime, there are some remedies that may help settle your stomach: 

  • Sipping on bone broth, electrolytes, or peppermint tea to avoid dehydration
  • Activated charcoal for relieving gas and bloating (4)
  • Probiotics to restore healthy gut bacteria after food poisoning
  • Ginger or chamomile to help with nausea and stomach cramps

If symptoms persist or become severe, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

As the holidays approach, it’s essential to keep your loved ones safe from foodborne illnesses. Make sure to practice good hygiene, cook food thoroughly, and avoid cross-contamination to reduce the risk of contracting one of the common foodborne illnesses associated with holiday parties. By following these tips, you can enjoy your holiday gatherings with peace of mind, knowing that you’re taking proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.


gut health, Holistic Medicine

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.
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