Holiday Grazing Could Make You Sick

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During every holiday get-together, there's always the late folks. So, you leave the food out so they can eat when they finally arrive. Turns out, this can be dangerous. The same goes for leaving out a buffet and letting people graze during a football game. Here's what you need to know.

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Image: Cottonbro Studio, Pexels

Food has a time limit

You can't just leave food out. Bacteria grow quickly while food is out on the table or counter. According to the Mayo Clinic, you shouldn't leave food out any longer than two hours

If you live in a warm part of the world, or grandma just has the heat turned up, that lessens your time. Food in areas above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) must be refrigerated after just an hour.

What's the big deal?

A little bacteria growth is no big deal, right? Wrong. Bacterial growth in food can lead to food poisoning. At the very least, you could spend the rest of your night in the bathroom, and that's no way to spend a holiday. At the worst, you could spend your holiday in the emergency room.

Don't think it won't happen to you. According to a 2023 survey by HealthCanal, 66% of their respondents have experienced food poisoning first-hand. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 people gets sick from a foodborne illness, and each year, 128,000 people are hospitalized because of it. Even worse, 3,000 people die from a foodborne illness each year.

Nuking leftovers gets rid of bacteria, right?

You may think, well, let's microwave the leftovers to get rid of any bacteria, but that's not the answer either. First, microwaves don't kill bacteria. The heat created by microwaves does. Even if you heat the leftovers to a temperature that will kill bacteria, some bacteria toxins can't be killed with heat— like staphylococcus (staph) and Bacillus cereus, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

How to keep holiday foods safe

Keeping food safe for all of your guests is easy:

  • Don't leave food out for more than two hours. If it's hot out (over 90 degrees), only leave food out for an hour or less.
  • Refrigerate food in shallow dishes so it can cool down sooner, lessening the chance of bacteria growth. To-go plates are an ideal way to store leftovers.
  • Don't worry about putting hot food in the fridge. The best time to put things in the fridge is while the food's still hot to prevent bacteria growth.
  • Saving some leftovers for another get-together? Only keep leftovers for three to four days. After that, toss them out.
Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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