If there’s only one cutting board around, it’s critical to clean and sanitize it in between uses “especially if you are going to use them for a raw product followed by a food that will not be cooked,” Dr. Shumaker says.
Scrub your board down with plenty of soap and water to help keep things clean, Bruce Ruck, PharmD, the managing director of the NJ Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells SELF. If you need to have a multipurpose board, reach for a plastic option instead of wood, since plastic boards are nonporous and won’t absorb bacteria into tiny cracks as easily. “Knives have to be washed well too,” Dr. Ruck adds.
Don’t forget to keep tabs on how long food sits out.
You might be tempted to display your beautiful spread of food before the actual eating takes place, but don’t leave it out too long. The USDA recommends that you refrigerate all perishable foods that have been sitting at room temperature within two hours of being cooked.
After two hours, your food may enter the “danger zone,” which ranges between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In that zone, harmful bacteria can quickly multiply. Dr. Ruck suggests wrapping food up and storing it in the fridge or a warming container like a slow cooker or chafing dish once it’s prepared to keep it at the appropriate temperature.
As for leftovers? If you can wrap them up and refrigerate them within two hours of the food being prepared and left out, you should be good to go.
…and don’t let your prepared dish languish in the car!
When you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, don’t neglect any food you’re bringing with you. After all, it’s also subject to that two-hour rule—two hours from the time you prepared it, not two hours since you arrived.
Helpful tip, per the USDA: Transport hot foods in insulated containers to keep them at a temperature of 140 degrees or higher. For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep them at or below 40 degrees.
Keep your hands (and everyone else’s) out of the bread basket.
It’s normal to have a charcuterie plate, chips and dip, or a bread basket out for people to serve themselves. To keep things as clean as possible, put out spoons or tongs to make it easy for people to dole out snacks or sides without actually putting their hands all over it.
“That’s a good practice in general,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF. “Who knows where people’s hands have been and how good their hand hygiene is?”
Dr. Russo says that the biggest concern in this kind of situation is a bug like norovirus, one of the most common pathogens that can trigger the stomach flu (aka gastroenteritis) or food poisoning, both of which cause relentless vomiting and diarrhea.
And norovirus is commonly transmitted via contaminated food or liquids. “It’s extraordinarily infectious,” Dr. Russo stresses, noting that norovirus spreads quickly and easily when an infected person doesn’t wash their hands, including after using the bathroom, and makes direct contact with other people or surfaces other people may touch.
Bottom line: How you handle your food matters! You shouldn’t let the stress of potential foodborne illness get in the way of enjoying your meal, but keeping these tips in mind can help you avoid feeling terrible later. And, of course, this isn’t a totally exhaustive list: Check out other food safety tips you should keep in mind year-round here.