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Food Preparation Safety

State and local public health officials are reminding Montanans about ways to stay healthy when preparing and consuming food during the upcoming holiday season.

So far in 2022, there have been 25 gastrointestinal illness outbreaks reported in Montana in numerous counties. Twenty-three of these outbreaks were caused or suspected to be caused by norovirus. Norovirus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in Montana and the United States, and people with norovirus infection experience symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain.

Foodborne illnesses are often caused by consuming food that is undercooked, has not been stored or washed properly, or has been contaminated by another food item or a sick food handler. Additionally, every year there are many foodborne illnesses that are never linked to an outbreak or never reported to providers and public health.

According to Rachel Hinnenkamp, epidemiologist for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, raw meat such as chicken, beef, and oysters may contain bacteria such as Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and Vibriosis. “These foods should be cooked thoroughly to avoid causing illness,” she said.

Norovirus @kateryna_kon

Additionally, some groups of people are more likely to become seriously ill, including children under five, pregnant women, adults aged 65 and over, and immunocompromised individuals.

Staci Evangeline of the Food and Consumer Safety Section emphasizes that people should follow the four steps of food safety to avoid illness. These steps are:

  1. Clean: wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often when cooking.

  2. Separate: separate germ-spreading raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from cooked food and produce.

  3. Cook: use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills germs.

  4. Chill: refrigerate perishable foods and leftovers within two hours. Refrigerated products should be kept at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Evangeline says if there’s ever a question whether food is safe for consumption, always stick to this basic message: “When in doubt, throw it out,” she said. “It is also important to remember not to cook for others while you are ill, as this can spread illness to the people who are consuming your food.”

For more information, visit the Montana DPHHS website at


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