Doctors' Notes

Food Poisoning: Cook Safely

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via  We promise to keep it anonymous. 


If you are trying to be in tip top shape to catch those Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday sales this year, or if you want to enjoy those Thanksgiving football games uninterrupted, then you definitely want to make sure to avoid these common Thanksgiving Day pitfalls.  Believe it or not, over 400,000 people each year find themselves suffering from food poisoning symptoms after Thanksgiving Day instead of enjoying the festivities.  The good news is that following a few simple tips can ensure that you aren’t in that number.

The most common cause of foodborne illness on Thanksgiving is not refrigerating the food promptly and properly.  The temperature “super danger zone” is between 70° F and 130° F where it is estimated that harmful bacteria can rapidly multiply as often as every 10 minutes.  The usual suspects continue to be Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, and Campylobacter, which all grow at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F.  When leftovers are not cooled quickly or appropriately, the food can remain in the temperature danger zones for hours, allowing for scores of harmful bacteria to invade your meal.

Food poisoning symptoms often have a relatively rapid onset, even before the family is done celebrating.   The symptoms can strike fast, usually within just a couple of hours of consuming the meal.

Common symptoms of foodborne illness include:

* Nausea

* Vomiting

* Diarrhea (may be bloody)

* Abdominal pain and cramps

* Fever

Fortunately, most people recover within one to ten days without any lasting effects.  However, for some there may be long lasting effects such as kidney failure, brain damage, chronic arthritis, or even death from their illness.  That’s why it’s important to know how to prevent some of these common pitfalls to avoid spending your Thanksgiving holiday miserable with stomach upset.

This year, be sure to follow the “2 hour-2 inches-4 days” rule offered by The Center for Science in the Public Interest to keep your family safe.

Two hours: Be sure to refrigerate all leftover food within two hours.  Save the family games, laughter, and TV time until AFTER all food has been put away.

Two inches: When packaging the leftovers, don’t overstuff the food containers. Fill food containers only to a depth of two inches, to ensure that all food cools rapidly.  If it is packed too tightly, the food stays in the temperature danger zone promoting bacterial growth.

Four days: Always finish all refrigerated leftovers within three to four days.  If necessary, always freeze any remaining leftovers if kept for longer than 4 days.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!