With the holiday season officially upon us, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services reminds others to stay safe when eating and preparing food this season. 

The press release says 25 gastrointestinal illness outbreaks in Montana in 2022 alone. Twenty-three of these cases were expected to be caused by norovirus, the most common gastroenteritis outbreak in the state and the nation. Symptoms of norovirus include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain. 

Foodborne illnesses are often caused by eating undercooked food or food that has not been stored or cleaned properly. They can also happen by contamination of other food times, or the food handler is sick themselves. 

Epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Human Services Rachel Hinnenkamp says raw meat like chicken, oysters, and beef contains bacteria like salmonella, E.coli, and vibriosis. She advises that these foods should be thoroughly cooked to avoid causing any foodborne illnesses. Some groups of people are more at risk of getting sick than others, including children under five, pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, and adults 65 and older. 

There are three steps to take in mind when preparing food. Be sure to wash hands, utensils, and surfaces used often when cooking. Separate germ-spearing raw meat from other fresh produce and cooked food. Use a food thermometer, ensuring all foods are cooked at an internal temperature that kills germs. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours. Food should be kept at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid getting sick. 

A good rule of thumb to remember is to not take any chances; when in doubt, throw it out. And, of course, do not cook for others if you are sick.