Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday, with families traveling from near and far to share a traditional meal and spend time together. Unfortunately, illness often tags along for the return trip.
“As much as we love to see our families at Thanksgiving, getting sick is an unintended and unwelcome consequence of some get-togethers,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “It makes you wish medicine came in gravy form.”
One of the easiest and most effective ways people can avoid illness is to keep their hands clean through regular washing, he said. There’s no need to scrub up after every single handshake, but be sure to wash or apply hand sanitizer before meals.
“As you touch things, you build up germs on your hands, and then you can infect yourself when you touch your mouth, nose or eyes,” Prescott said. “It’s especially important to keep clean if you’re dealing with young children or helping cook the big meal.”
On a holiday built around food, making sure dishes are cooked and stored properly is also vital.
Cold items should stay refrigerated before cooking to prevent bacteria from flourishing. Making sure food is cooked at the proper temperature is also important; if dishes don’t reach their safe minimum internal temperatures, bacteria can survive.
“A kitchen thermometer is a handy tool for making sure your food is safe to eat, especially for turkey and other meat dishes,” Prescott said.
Once the meal is finished, put the leftovers away quickly. Not only will it stop folks from over-indulging, it’ll keep the food safe for eating later. Anything left out at room temperature for more than two hours should probably be thrown away.
One other important way to insure that you and your family stay healthy, said Prescott, is to be sure everybody has received a flu shot this year. “The flu virus constantly changes, so that booster you received last year won’t do you much good this year,” he said.
Between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu annually, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The shot gives your immune system a weakened version of the influenza virus, which strengthens your body’s defenses if it is exposed to the real thing later on.
“Illness can ruin an otherwise joyful time of year,” said Prescott. “But with the right precautions, it doesn’t have to.”