Health department offers holiday food safety tips

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) – Since many people put out holiday parties for friends and family to enjoy, health experts want to make sure you know that leaving food out for too long can lead to illness.

Harlingen Health Director Josh Ramirez said harmful organisms can be found in meat and plant foods and these organisms can reproduce.

Ramirez explained that it is important to properly handle, prepare and store food to avoid any health problems.

“E. coli, which is the most common that people tend to forget, which is the thing that comes in meat products and grows very quickly under the right conditions.”

He said that cross-contamination and temperature can cause the growth of organisms such as E. coli.

“When their numbers get dangerously high when they get to room temperature over a three-hour period, they start growing and multiplying so that the body can’t handle and process that, and that’s when they get sick,” Ramirez said.

He recommended keeping foods below 38 degrees Fahrenheit or 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to prevent organisms from growing and said there is a lot of misinformation about storing hot foods in the refrigerator.

“The problem is when you put a huge pot about seven to eight inches deep with food items in the fridge. You have to understand that for the cooling to get to the center, it might take about eight hours if it’s really hot,”

He said using shallow pans or trays to store hot foods in the refrigerator will help the food cool faster, making it safer to eat later.

However, he said there are also limits to how long leftovers can be stored before they become unsafe.

“Do not let it go more than three days to eat this fresh product, it is valid for up to seven days if your refrigerator is working properly and you have a set temperature at the appropriate levels for this product,” he said.

Ramirez said symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and chills after eating a food you might think was bad or left out for too long, should be taken seriously.

“If you start to have symptoms, see your doctor right away, don’t let it go too long, and don’t say ‘okay it will pass,’ because you could risk getting into bigger trouble, or ending up in the hospital,” Ramirez said.

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