Holiday Food Safety & Recipes

As it says in the song Home for the Holidays, you can't beat home sweet home for celebrating an important feast with family and friends. However, holiday meals -- often prepared by several cooks, can take a turn for the worse if food safety isn't a key ingredient in handling and cooking the food. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is giving consumers key recommendations to help them reduce the risk of foodborne illness during these holiday gatherings. 

1. Clean

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and
    after handling any food.
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water
    and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.

2. Separate

  • When shopping in the store, storing food in the refrigerator at home, or preparing meals, keep foods that won’t be cooked separate from raw eggs, meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
  • Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
  • Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.

3. Cook

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are
    cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety,
    insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and
    wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the
    temperature reaches 165°F. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature
    of the stuffing should be 165°F.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
  • Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.

4. Chill

  • Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that
    should be refrigerated, including pie—within two hours.
  • Set your refrigerator at or below 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. Check
    both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, under cold running
    water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature. Cook food
    thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
  • Allow enough time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.
  • Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers more information for holiday food safety on their Seasonal Food Safety pages.

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