Who Brought the Sauce? Prevention of Foodborne Illness During the Holidays

Author: Amanda Thornton, CIC, RN, MSN

Categories: General Infection Prevention, Hand Hygiene & Surface Disinfection November 9, 2021

As we once again approach the holiday season, we gather with friends and family bringing holiday cheer, friendship, lots of love, and lots of food, the one thing we don’t want to bring is a foodborne illness.  Food safety is especially important at large gatherings, and in places where impromptu “potlucks” may pop up such as the break rooms for health care workers.  Last year, COVID-19 restrictions prohibited visitors from entering healthcare facilities especially with vulnerable populations such as long-term care. This year may see an increase in holiday visitations, making up for lost time, and bringing food with them to share.  As we plan our get-togethers and the Pinterest meals we will bring with us, let’s look at some of the ways we can protect our loved ones from bacteria that can ruin the fun.

Foodborne illnesses come from eating contaminated foods and can be caused by multiple different types of microorganisms.  In fact, researchers have identified 250 organisms so far that can cause illnesses when ingested after eating.  The top five germs that cause illness from food eaten in the United States are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus1.  Foodborne illnesses can cause a variety of different symptoms, sometimes causing extremely serious illnesses needing hospitalization, especially those in high-risk groups such as the immunocompromised, the very young, the very old, and pregnant women.  Foods that commonly cause food-related illnesses include raw or undercooked meats, seafood, and raw shellfish, fruits and vegetables, raw eggs, and raw flour2.  To avoid the germs that come with these types of foods, ensure thorough cooking (use a food thermometer), wash fruits and vegetables well, keep hot food hot, and cold food cold, and be sure to refrigerate or freeze any perishable foods within two hours.

It is important to note that food preparation surfaces can also contaminate foods.  Food prep areas such as kitchen counters and tables where food is served should be sanitized properly to avoid passing along the unwanted disease. When thawing or prepping raw foods, be sure the cutting boards, utensils, and dishes remain separate, and thoroughly sanitize areas where raw food is prepared before preparing other foods. Pre-saturated sanitizing wipes, like the Sani Professional No-Rinse Sanitizing Wipes, are available to ensure proper cleaning and sanitization practices are easy to follow during the holiday season.

Perhaps the most important food safety tip of all is to wash your hands! Every healthcare worker knows the “five moments of hand hygiene” which include before entering a patient room, before any procedure, after potential exposure to blood or bodily fluids, after touching the patient, and after touching the patient’s surroundings 3.  But what are the key moments of hand hygiene for food safety?  Food safety hand hygiene should include washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (gel or hand wipe) in the following situations: Before, during, and after preparing food, before eating food, after handling pet food or pet treats or touching pets, after using the toilet, after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, after touching garbage, before and after caring for someone who is sick, before and after treating a cut or wound, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing4.

It is also important to ensure when visiting a loved one in a hospital or long-term care setting that the patient or resident themselves also performs hand hygiene before eating.  For bedbound individuals this can be particularly challenging as getting to the sink may be difficult for them.  Fortunately, there are solutions for this in the form of a pre-saturated hand hygiene wipe or “bedside pack”5.

One study has shown that the use of such a wipe in healthcare contributed to increased hand hygiene compliance and an observed decrease in C. difficile events.So as the holiday lights twinkle and we raise a (clean) glass in the air we should all say “cheers!” to a healthy and happy holiday season: full of food, great friends/family, and good sauce!

1.  https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html
2. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foods-linked-illness.html
3. https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/integrated-health-services-(ihs)/infection-prevention-and-control/your-5-moments-for-hand-hygiene-poster.pdf?sfvrsn=83e2fb0e_16
4. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/holidays.html
5. https://pdihc.com/resource/sani-hands-clinical-compendium/
6. “Can improving patient hand hygiene impact Clostridium difficile infection events at an academic medical center?” American Journal of Infection Control, Volume 45, Issue 9, 959 – 963 Authors: M Pokrywka, M Buraczewski, D Frank, H Dixon, J Ferrelli, K Shutt, M Yassin.


Amanda Thornton RN, MSN, CIC, VA-BC
amanda Clinical Science Liaison, PDI West Region


Amanda has been in nursing for the past 25 years.  She spent nine years as a direct care nurse in many clinical settings. In 2005 she entered into infection control and prevention, where she found a passion for all things related to preventing avoidable HAI’s.

Learn more about Amanda here.

More about Amanda Thornton Less about Amanda Thornton