Food safety for the holiday season

Keep food temperatures ‘just right’ to prevent foodborne illness

Millions of people get sick with foodborne illness each year in the United States. The Vermont Department of Health recommends cooking and handling food safely to prevent foodborne illness this holiday season.

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Refrigerate foods quickly since cold temperatures slow growth of harmful bacteria. Keep hot foods hot at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above by using chafing dishes or hot plates, and keep cold foods cold at 40 degrees or below by using ice.

“Keep food temperatures in mind when planning meals, cooking, and bringing food to someone’s house,” says Elisabeth Wirsing, food and lodging program chief at the Health Department. “Follow safety practices throughout the entire meal — from preparing the food to storing leftovers.”

Eat cooked food promptly and refrigerate leftovers within two hours after cooking. Refrigerate or freeze food in shallow storage containers for quicker cooling. Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than two hours.

Foodborne illness or “food poisoning” ranges from slight discomfort to serious infections that require hospitalization. Infants and young children, pregnant women, and older adults are at greatest risk for serious complications or death. The Health Department recommends the following to reduce the risk of foodborne illness:

  • Wash hands before and after preparing food.
  • Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods—do not cross-contaminate.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat or poultry.
  • Defrost turkeys in the refrigerator or in cold water. Allow 24 hours per five pounds in the refrigerator; allow 30 minutes per one pound in cold water.
  • Buy a fresh turkey (not frozen) one day before cooking.
  • The turkey should be cooked immediately after stuffing.
  • Cook turkey until a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and/or in the center of food and stuffing cooked with the turkey reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit. (Do not let thermometer touch bones when reading temperature.)
  • Refrigerated turkey should be eaten within three to four days; gravy, stuffing and other sides within one to two days; and frozen leftovers within one month.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degress Fahrenheit — the food should be hot and steaming.

For a temperature guide and more information on holiday food safety, visit:

— Vermont Department of Health


Swell advice on sprained ankles

Lewis First, M.D.

Lewis First, M.D.

Parents have been asking me about what to do when their child’s ankle swells after an injury and whether it might be sprained. Let me put my best foot forward and provide some information on this topic.

So what is an ankle sprain? It’s when the ligaments, a type of tissue that connects one bone in the ankle joint with another, get overly stretched and/or torn. This does not just occur in an athletic event: it can happen from simply stepping in a hole, tripping on stairs, or putting your weight down awkwardly.

Fortunately in younger children, ligaments may be stronger than the bones themselves. The bone is more apt to be injured before the ligament, but in older children and teens, the reverse occurs.

The severity of a sprain depends on just how much damage occurs to the ligaments. A grade 1 sprain is just some stretching of the ligaments and may result in soreness and a bit of swelling. A grade 2 is a moderate sprain with partial tearing resulting in pain, swelling and an inability to bear weight easily. Grade 3 injuries are complete tears of the ligaments in the ankle, with the ankle feeling loose and unsteady with a substantial amount of pain and swelling.

How can you tell if your child has experienced a sprain? Usually if it hurts enough that your child or you feel you need to call a doctor. That may in itself suggest a sprain, if not a fracture of the foot. As a result your child’s health care professional will want to examine the foot and possibly get x-rays or even consult with a bone or sports medicine specialist.

Treatment depends on the severity of the sprain and may last a week for a grade 1 and several weeks for grades 2 and 3. But in all cases, the first step is to initiate what is called RICE therapy for at least the first 48 hours. R is for resting and not weight bearing. I is for ice for the first 48 hours after an injury, applying it for 20-30 minutes at least every 3-4 hours until the swelling is gone. C is for compression via a splint or elastic wrap suggested by your child’s doctor. And finally, E is for elevation, also to reduce swelling.

Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can also reduce the swelling. Return to play depends upon the severity of the sprain and the approval from your child’s doctor as well as an exercise regimen to strengthen the torn ligaments.

Hopefully tips like this will not be painful ones to think about the next time your child injures his or her ankle.


Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.