• Health & Wellness

    Infectious Diseases A-Z: Have a food-safe holiday

a Thanksgiving table filled with holiday foods, turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing and geen beans

Stay healthy this Thanksgiving by ensuring your food is safe.  Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist Dr. Pritish Tosh says the No. 1 thing you can do to prevent illness this holiday season is to be careful about how you handle food, especially raw turkey.

"There are several bacterial pathogens that can exist on raw turkey," says Dr. Tosh. "The one we are most concerned about is salmonella, which is a bacterial infection. It can cause diarrhea, but it can also cause more severe infection in people who are sicker or have poor immune systems."

Watch: Dr. Pritish Tosh

Dr. Tosh says cross-contamination can lead to illness. Consider anything that has touched raw poultry to be contaminated — even if it looks clean. He also says salmonella is not confined to poultry.

"The issue of cross-contamination is not just limited to turkey, says Dr. Tosh. "Any sort of raw meat needs to be carefully handled. Anything that has touched that raw meat should be considered contaminated, including your hands. And, so, whether it’s an uncooked ham, turkey or a piece of beef, consider everything that it has touched to be contaminated."

When it comes to respiratory etiquette, Dr. Tosh says, "Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than into your hands."

Safe food handling is important, as is good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, adds Dr. Tosh. "The big thing about staying healthy during the holidays and avoiding illness is to make sure you have good food handling practices, which includes good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. So, while you’re cooking you're preventing cross-contamination, especially if something's touched raw meat. Also, avoid going to family gatherings if you're sick. If you absolutely have to go, do what you can to keep your hands clean!"