If You Make This Popular Holiday Dish, Sanitize Your Kitchen, CDC Warns

The agency is sounding the alarm about a potentially dangerous Christmas classic.

The holidays are here, and for many families that means preparing special meals in celebration. However, when it comes to Christmas cooking, health authorities say that some recipes are safer than others. In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning about one popular meal which they say can turn your kitchen into a serious health hazard by way of bacterial contamination.

If you do choose to make this meal from scratch, the health authority says you'll need to sanitize your kitchen afterward—or else risk serious food-borne illness. Read on to find out which popular holiday dish the CDC says should be made with the utmost caution, and how you can easily sidestep the problem by switching out one step in the prep process!

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If you cook chitlins, be sure to sanitize your kitchen, says the CDC.

Daughter and mother cooking together at home

Chitterlings, more commonly known as "chitlins," are a traditional Southern food that are also popular in the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and parts of Europe. Though many families eat them all year round, the dish is most often served during winter holidays.

Chitlins are typically made of boiled pig intestines, which are then battered, fried, and served with hot sauce or other condiments. Because the key ingredients come contaminated with bacteria from the animal's digestive tract, experts say it's imperative to exercise caution while cooking them. According to the CDC, this means sanitizing your kitchen afterward, in addition to taking other safety precautions in the prepping and cooking process.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a similar warning regarding the popular dish. "Chitlins must be handled and prepared with caution lest they cause foodborne illness," these experts write. "Preparation is a labor-intensive process that lends itself to the cross-contamination of kitchen countertops, cutting boards, and utensils. Chitterlings can be contaminated with the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica, which can cause a diarrheal illness called 'yersiniosis.' Other food-borne pathogens—such as Salmonella and E. coli—can also be present, so it is important to follow safe food handling practices to prevent infection."

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Here's how to prepare chitlins safely.

Closeup photograph of two hands cleaning the oven in a domestic kitchen.

According to both health authorities, it's important to take safety precautions during prep, cook, and cleanup while making chitlins. If you use raw chitlins, be sure to freeze them if they will be in your home for longer than two days before cooking. Thaw them carefully in a covered bowl and boil them for a minimum of five minutes before cleaning them. "This will reduce germs that may get on your hands, counter, and utensils while you are cleaning the chitlins," the CDC explains.

However, even if you take care not to spread germs while cooking chitlins, you should assume they have contaminated your cooking tools, utensils, and kitchen surfaces. Using a solution that consists of one quarter cup household chlorine bleach and one gallon of water, thoroughly clean and sanitize "anything that may have been touched by your hands, raw chitlins, or their juice," the CDC urges. This will likely include your cutting boards, pots, pans, lids, knives, stovetop, cabinet or drawer handles, refrigerator, and the sink itself.

If that all sounds like far too much work, there's a much simpler solution that may streamline your holiday cooking: Purchase pre-cooked chitlins, the CDC recommends.

Children are at the greatest risk of serious infection.

a father and his baby cleaning the kitchen counter

The CDC notes that while anyone can become sick as a result of bacterial contamination from raw or undercooked chitlins, children are at the highest risk of serious infection. For this reason, the agency says you should "always keep children out of the kitchen when preparing chitlins."

Additionally, you should make a point of washing your hands thoroughly during and after preparation of the meal. "Young children are more likely to get sick with yersiniosis if people preparing chitlins don't wash their hands carefully before touching children or items that children touch or put in their mouths, such as toys, pacifiers, bottles, and food," the CDC notes.

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Look out for these symptoms of food-borne illness after eating chitlins.

kid with stomach pain, classroom germs

The CDC advises that before you begin your holiday cooking, you take a moment to learn the symptoms of yersiniosis, in case you or someone in your family becomes ill. Common symptoms, especially in young children, include fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that may contain blood. Symptoms most typically arise within four to seven days after contamination, and can last for up to three weeks.

You should also stay vigilant against symptoms of E. coli poisoning, another gastrointestinal illness that can spread via chitlins. Those sick from E. coli may experience stomach cramps, diarrhea (with or without blood), vomiting, and a low fever commonly within five to seven days after exposure. Meanwhile, those with Salmonella poisoning often experience similar symptoms, sometimes with the addition of chills.

Call your doctor or health provider if you suspect you have any other food-borne illness resulting from your holiday cooking.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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