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Tis the Season for Holiday Parties... and Food Poisoning

The holidays are almost here, which means hauling out the holly, stringing up the lights, and dashing through the snow. The holidays also mean lots of fun, festive parties to celebrate the season. These celebrations usually feature an array of delectable foods and tasty drinks that are dangerous to your waistline, but if you’re hosting a party, you have more to worry about than added pounds or lumpy gravy.

According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated one in six people in the United States come down with food poisoning every year. And whether you’re preparing the food and drinks for your party yourself or purchasing them, you could be liable if your party guests get sick. Food poisoning doesn’t just happen to bad cooks either. Foods, such as bagged spinach -- that’s supposedly pre-washed and ready to eat -- can contain E. coli, which is undetectable to even the most well trained chef.

Fortunately, most homeowner’s insurance policies cover food poisoning situations in which your guests incur medical expenses or endure “pain and suffering” (i.e. missing work because they’re hovering over a toilet bowl). There are limits to both of these coverages and intentional poisoning is not covered (so don’t try slipping something into your pesky aunt’s pumpkin pie), but most policies provide protection from unintentional food-borne illness.

The best way to avoid a food-poisoning claim is to take the proper precautions when preparing your holiday fare. Here are some tips to ensure your guests leave with leftovers and fond memories, not food poisoning.

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat or poultry.
  2. Use an anti-bacterial cleaner to wipe down any surfaces, including counters and cutting boards, that come into contact with raw meat or poultry.
  3. Check the expiration date on foods before using them to cook or offering them to guests.
  4. Wash all produce, even the kind that’s “pre-washed,” before using it.
  5. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils to stir raw and cooked food.
  6. Make sure all foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature. This rule doesn’t apply to just meat and poultry either. Eggs, seafood, and even potatoes can cause illness if they are undercooked.
  7. Don’t leave foods that require refrigeration or freezing out for more than two hours.
  8. When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re unsure about any food – raw or cooked, prepared or homemade – don’t use it.
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