Food Safety: An Important Message During the Holidays

thanksgiving2012‘Twas the holiday season, and all through the states, turkeys were roasted and being put upon plates.

People often talk about the secret rub their grandmother uses on her Thanksgiving turkey. People do not, however, always talk about the ways grandma ensured her rub did not contaminate the potatoes.

It is the holiday season, and local health departments should be working to ensure the general public knows all the ways to keep their families safe during the holidays. NACCHO worked with Sam Wong PhD, REHS/RS, Director of Public and Community Health Services, Town of Hudson, Massachusetts to explore the topic of food safety for this article. Food safety becomes an especially important issue for local health departments in light of the ongoing multistate outbreak of drug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg that has made 389 people sick in 23 states. One way that local health departments work to keep people safe from food-borne illness and contamination is through messaging. Many health departments have developed holiday-specific public outreach messages, such as the following examples from Sacramento County and Fairfax County.

Sacramento County has generated a number of useful posters that can be downloaded from their website. These posters cover topics such as basic food safety, seasonal food safety, freezing and food safety, turkey preparation, storing food while traveling, and preserving edible holiday gifts. In addition, Sacramento County has also created food safety posters in Spanish. Making these posters downloadable from the website gives community stakeholders a chance to download, print, and hang the messages in public places, spreading food safety messages to a wide population.

Fairfax County has produced a video public service announcement (see above) that can be distributed through social media, embedded on webpages, and included in e-newsletters during the holidays. The video gives tips for holiday food safety, including avoiding cross contamination, cooking temperatures for various meats, ideal ingredients for safe eggnog, and choosing the right cider.

These resources and others can be valuable to local health departments working to message food safety during the holiday season. Think of using these resources as models for developing county or city specific resources for your community.

Through, the federal government also has many resources for local health departments to use. These include proper food safety procedures during Thanksgiving, holiday buffet parties, and holiday eggnog. Some of these resources are also available in languages other than English. You can simply repost this link on your website, social media outlets, or include it in your newsletters. These resources can be valuable to local health departments working to message food safety during the holiday season.

One sure way for a public outreach effort to be more effective is for local health departments to involve local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units in promoting food safety messages. MRC volunteers are often well connected in their communities. Enlisting the MRC allows for volunteers to spread the local health department’s messages to a greater population. Sarasota County, for example, was able to use their local unit’s MRC newsletter to publicize important holiday food safety messages.

Moreover, continuing to engage the MRC will help keep the connection between local health departments and volunteers strong. Some MRC units have reported that it can be challenging to continue to engage their volunteers between emergencies. Partnering with your MRC unit to promote public health messages and including the volunteers as part of the local health department’s public outreach efforts is an effective way to incorporate the MRC in ongoing community preparedness.

So whether it is cranberry sauce or a turkey uncooked, remember to talk about food safety and have folks take a look [at these resources]. 


About Naomi Rennard

Naomi Rennard, MPH, is Program Analyst for public health preparedness at NACCHO.

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