It’s Christmas Day. Santa has come and gone. The tree sparkles. Presents are being unwrapped with gay abandon and everyone is looking forward to the grand finale — Christmas dinner.


It’s Christmas Day. Santa has come and gone. The tree sparkles. Presents are being unwrapped with gay abandon and everyone is looking forward to the grand finale — Christmas dinner.


The cook has visions of putting a magnificent meal on the table that will draw oohs and ahhs. All is well in the kitchen.


Or is it?


If cooks aren’t careful, there could be an unwanted gift lurking on that laden dining table — food poisoning. According to the experts, food poisoning is more common at Christmas tables than most think.


Of course, the number one food poisoning culprit is under-cooked turkey and dressing.


Here are the recommendations:


• Don’t leave an uncooked, thawed turkey out of the refrigerator longer than two hours.


• Wash hands with soap and water frequently.


• Wash knives and cutting surfaces frequently and, if possible, use separate cutting surfaces for raw meat, like turkey, and other foods.


• Use a meat thermometer to check if the turkey is done. The internal temperature should be 180 to 185 degrees and the juices should run clear with no hint of pink.


• Don’t stuff a turkey the night before, and remove dressing immediately after roasting.


Now, many of those tips won’t come as a surprise to the experienced cook. But here are some that might raise an eyebrow or two. Another common mistake that can cause food poisoning is leaving leftovers out for after-dinner snacking. While it may seem hospitable to leave all those goodies available and at the whim of guests, it’s a really, really, really bad idea.


Leftovers should not stand at room temperature for more than three hours.


Here are some other tips:


• Don’t store dressing inside the turkey. Refrigerate turkey and dressing in separate containers.


• Cool all hot food, then refrigerate.

• Make sure to thoroughly reheat all refrigerated leftovers before serving.


And, speaking of leftovers, even though your mother probably told you to never, ever let leftovers go to waste, the truth is, Christmas leftovers don’t last forever, or even until New Year’s Day.


Use leftover turkey within three to four days and leftover dressing and gravy within two days.

Symptoms and Treatment


Food poisoning causes flu-like symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and headache. Symptoms can develop in as little as 30 minutes or take several days before becoming noticeable. Usually, food poisoning is mild and runs its course within 24 to 48 hours. However, in some cases, it can be serious and even deadly. Those most susceptible are children, senior citizens and women who are pregnant.


Food poisoning can usually be treated at home with clear liquids to stay hydrated. After vomiting and diarrhea end, start with bland foods like rice, bread, milk and potatoes before returning to a regular diet.


Head to the emergency room if any of these symptoms occur — vomiting blood, swollen abdomen, problems breathing, swollen joints, yellow eyes or skin, or sharp abdominal pain that lasts more than 15 minutes.


Call your doctor if nausea, vomiting or diarrhea lasts more than two days or the person develops fever or dizziness.