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by Robin Allen MSPH, RDN, LDN

The recent foodborne illness outbreaks of E.coli and Norovirus has me greatly concerned.  I love dining out but is it safe? How my food is being prepared?  And what is the condition of those preparing my food?  Have they washed their hands?  Are they well?  What about all those buffets and potlucks? How long has that food been sitting out?  Are other people handling their food safely? I thought I would take this time to write some reminders to keep your holiday safe!  The last thing anyone wants is to get sick around the holidays.

I attended a #CDCFoodChat Twitter chat on food safety and picked up some good information to share.  I highly recommend you read this informative sharing of information. 

First what has been in the news?

There have been outbreaks of Escherichia Coli (E.-coli) in several states.  E.coli are a group of bacteria mostly harmless but can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting.  Food and water contaminated with human or animal feces are the modes of transmission. Swallowing tiny amounts of these foods that have been contaminated (yes it is disgusting) spreads the infection.

Outbreaks of E.coli occurred in November 2015 in Oregon, Washington State, California, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New York.  No specific food has yet been identified for this Illness, but Chipotle Grill appears to be the source of the outbreak.   Outbreaks of E.coli have been linked recently to rotisserie chicken salad, raw clover sprouts (2 occasions), ground beef, ready to eat salad, organic spinach, and Spring Blend. Even my favorite, raw cookie dough has been associated with an outbreak. Foods most likely to be associated with E.Coli include unpasteurized (raw) milk, unpasteurized apple cider, and soft cheeses made from raw milk, eating an undercooked hamburger or a contaminated piece of lettuce. People have also gotten sick by swallowing lake water while swimming, petting zoos and other animal exhibits, and by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet.

How can you minimize your risk for E. Coli?  Wash, Wash, Wash!

Below are tips from

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food.
  • Wash your hands after any contact with animals, even your pets.
  • Always wash your hands before preparing and feeding an infant, before touching an infant’s mouth, or touching pacifiers or other things that go into an infant’s mouth.
  • Keep all objects that enter infants’ mouths (such as pacifiers and teethers) clean.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and running water.
  • Follow clean, separate, cook, chill guidelines, found at
    • Cook meats thoroughly. Cook ground beef and meat to a temperature of at least 160°F (70˚C).
    • Prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas.  Do not cut vegetables on the same cutting board as raw meat. Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Avoid consuming raw milk or unpasteurized dairy products juices (like fresh apple cider).
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools. 

Another recent foodborne illness has been the Norovirus or Norwalk Virus.  The Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States and causes about 50% of all food-related illnesses. Norovirus is highly contagious and is usually spread by person to person contact. However, norovirus can be spread by consuming contaminated food or water or touching items that are contaminated. A food worker who comes to work infected with norovirus and handles food can cause or spread the virus.  Contamination with norovirus can occur at any point in the food process, when it is being grown, shipped, handled, or prepared. Foods commonly associated with outbreaks of norovirus are produce, leafy greens, ready to eat foods handled by infected workers, salads, sandwiches, ice, cookies, fresh fruits, and shellfish (such as oysters). Any food can be contaminated if an infected person has handled it with vomit or feces on their hands.

Recently a norovirus outbreak, again associated with Chipotle Grill sickened 141 Boston College students. The Boston College basketball coach blamed a recent loss because 8 players were sick with norovirus. Another outbreak of norovirus occurred in Simi Valley, CA where 234 people became ill, also associated with Chipotle Grill.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), food workers can follow some simple tips to prevent norovirus from spreading:

  • Avoid preparing food for others while you are sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop.
  • Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and water.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly.
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely.
  • Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry separately.

Here are some more tips from the CDC to prevent foodborne illness from crashing your holiday.

Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill, Stuff with care

  • Buffets and the Two-Hour Rule. Perishable foods (like meat and poultry) should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there two hours or more.

Hot and Cold

  • Keep Hot Foods HOT and Cold Foods COLD. Hot foods on a buffet should be held at 140 °F or warmer. Keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Do not re-heat food in your slow cooker.
  • Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Keep cold foods cold on a buffet by nesting the serving dishes into bowls of ice. Otherwise, use small serving trays and replace them frequently.  If you’re transporting cold foods, use a cooler with ice or commercial freezing gel.


  • Discard all perishable foods (meats, poultry) left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Immediately refrigerate or freeze remaining leftovers in shallow containers.
  • If you have additional questions about how to store leftovers, download the FoodKeeper app. This app offers storage guidance on more than 400 items and cooking tips for meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.

Don’t let foodborne Illness be an uninvited guest at your table this holiday season!

References: accessed 12-21-15

CDC Food Safety accessed 12-21-15 accessed 12-21-15 accessed 12-21-15 accessed 12-21-15

This post was written by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Flickr CC Esherichia Coli showing flagela Microbe World taken June 1, 2011