With cooler weather forcing people to gather indoors around the country and COVID conditions beginning to deteriorate just in time for the holiday season, health officials warn of continued caution around festive gatherings. But it’s not just COVID that’s a potential cause for concern: Other ongoing hazards could potentially disrupt your upcoming feast. In fact, best practices start with preparing the meal. For some general tips to keep your Thanksgiving safe and healthy, read on for advice from Jeanne Breen, MD, infectious disease physician and advisor to Force of Nature.
Remember that there were risks associated with the Thanksgiving meal well before COVID. Specifically, Breen urges hosts or preparers of holiday dishes to be mindful of foodborne illnesses. “I’m careful about avoiding foodborne germs like Salmonella and Campylobacter when I’m preparing food,” she says. “Organisms that may be present in uncooked poultry can be easily transferred to other surfaces.”
Never put any food items on the surface on which you’ve been prepping the raw turkey, she advises. “After the prep is done, I disinfect anything that touched it, including the countertops, cutting boards, and utensils,” Breen shares. “And I spray down my sink, sponges, and dish scrubber thoroughly.”
Breen emphasizes the importance of frequent and thorough handwashing all throughout the food prep, as well as during serving and gathering. “Of course I thoroughly wash my hands,” she says. Breen adds, “I don’t like to use anything with toxic chemicals in it,” noting that she washes hands and also sprays high-touch surfaces with a disinfectant on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list N, the products approved for use against SARS-CoV-2.
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With COVID caseloads already rising across the U.S. and a new surge potentially on the horizon, experts caution against getting too complacent during the holiday season, especially when gathering indoors, and to remain “diligent” when it comes to safety practices known to mitigate risk.
Breen urges holiday celebrants to remember the virus still poses a threat. “With the holidays come opportunities for travel and for gatherings with family and friends,” she says. “Even with the advent of effective vaccines, we still need to be mindful of COVID-19.”
That means thorough hand washing, social distancing and gathering outdoors when possible, and abiding by federal mask mandates when traveling through airports and flying in planes. For an extra measure of protection in the air, wait a beat to eat on an airplane after all the passengers in your area get their food, advises Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo. This way, you can remove your mask after others have already finished eating and replaced theirs.