Helping make the health care system work for you

5 tips to avoid poisoning your dinner guests this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Rana Faure/Corbis

Make sure your bird's internal temperature hits at least 165 degrees before serving.

Thanksgiving means feasting and fun with family and friends, but skip a few important food preparation steps and an unwelcome guest may turn up at your dinner table: food poisoning.

Each year, one in six Americans is felled by food poisoning, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  And many of those cases happen on holidays, such as Thanksgiving.  

That’s the bad news.

The good news?  Public health agencies say all you need to do is follow simple food preparation safety tips to protect your family, your friends and your reputation.

They include:

1. The safe thaw:  It’s best to defrost your frozen turkey in its original wrapper in your refrigerator.  Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds. If you're running short on time, simply place the  bird (keeping it in its original wrapper) in a bowl of cold water. Then replace the water every 30 minutes. You'll need about 30 minutes of water thaw for each pound of meat.  Still not enough time?  Defrost it in your microwave, then cook it immediately.  Never attempt to cook a partially thawed turkey. 

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Help! Should I still drink milk?

milk cookies

hjhipster/Flickr

Milk and cookies sure taste god. But several studies have questioned whether milk actually does a body good.

Milk is a big beverage in a lot of households, especially those with kids. But is it time to change our dairy-swigging habits? Some recent studies say yes. 

Americans are drinking 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970, according to a Washington Post blog that analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Why? The Post points to several reasons:

  • Americans – especially young people – are choosing other beverages.
  • Milk has become more expensive.
  • And: Several studies have questioned whether milk actually does a body good.

More about those studies

This New York Times blog offers a rundown of recent analyses of the health benefits of milk. Reporter Aaron E. Carroll describes one study that was published in JAMA Pediatrics this year:

"Subjects were asked to report on how much milk they had consumed as teenagers, and then they were followed to see if that was associated with a reduced chance of hip fractures later in life. It wasn't."

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Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers?

A flu shot would have helped protect young adults, but most didn't get it.

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In Los Angeles County, health care employees must get a flu shot - or wear a protective mask.

If you, or a loved one, end up in a hospital in Los Angeles County during this flu season, the health care workers who treat you will either be vaccinated against the flu – or will wear a protective mask.

That was ordered by the LA County Department of Public Health in 2013 - to both protect health care workers from contracting the flu, and to prevent them from transmitting it to patients.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications each year. That begs the question: Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers? Or are there other effective ways of preventing the spread of flu in hospitals?

Patients and hospital employees, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Vaccination rates at hospitals

In an effort to increase flu vaccination rates among health care workers, California law requires hospitals to offer free flu shots – if a hospital staffer chooses not to be vaccinated, he must sign a declination form. Hospitals are required to report their vaccination rates to the state Department of Public Health.

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With high-deductible health plans come demands for price transparency

Images Money/Flickr

In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As KPCC health correspondent Stephanie O'Neill reported last week, it's open enrollment season for the more than 150 million Americans with job-based health insurance.

That's certainly the case here at Southern California Public Radio. On Friday, I attended a benefits meeting, where I learned the specifics of our health plan options.

As a young, healthy person with few medical issues, I'll probably stick with a high-deductible plan – with a health savings account to hopefully cover my deductible. (What's a high-deductible plan? Check out O'Neill's handy health insurance glossary.)

Apparently, I'm in good company. In 2006, just 4 percent of employees had a high-deductible plan and savings account; in 2013, one in five workers chose this option, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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FAQ: Covered California's next open enrollment begins Saturday

California Releases Health Care Enrollment Numbers For Month Of October

Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee.

California’s second health insurance enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act begins tomorrow. The three-month window marks the only time – except in the case of "qualifying life events" such as getting married or changing jobs – that a person can buy individual or family insurance for 2015.

Health policy experts say now is the time to shop and compare for the nearly 1.2 million Californians who bought 2014 insurance through Covered California, and for those who bought individual plans outside the exchange. 

Those who do nothing will be automatically enrolled in their existing plan.

"Pay your premium in December and you’re good to go on Jan. 1," says Peter Lee, Executive Director of Covered California. "But we encourage people to shop and see if there is a better option for them."

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