Holiday Food Safety Tips

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, ’tis the season for eating. Although the primary focus is always entertaining friends and family, you also want everyone to walk away happy and healthy. No one wants guests to take home a case of food poisoning along with their joyful memories.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has helpfully provided us with some holiday food safety guidelines. When it comes to food, you need to CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, CHILL, and USE CARE WITH STUFFING.


The first rule of safe food preparation is to keep everything—hands, counters, kitchen, and food—clean.

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. To help children judge time, tell them to wash for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday‘ twice.
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next 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. According to Marjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at the FDA: “Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops.”


The goal of separating foods is to keep bacteria from spreading from one food to another (cross-contamination).

  • Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won’t be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
  • 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).
  • Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
  • 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. Consider raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood and their juices to be contaminated…and anything that touches them (including plates) also becomes contaminated.


Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.

  • “Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness,” says the FDA’s Davidson. Invest in a good food thermometer, and use it 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 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF. (Please read on for more pointers on stuffing, below.)
  • 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.
  • No matter how tempted you are, don’t eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.


Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.

  • Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie!
  • Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF.  If you have doubts about the temperature, check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
  • Don’t taste food that looks or smells questionable. Davidson says, “A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out.”
  • Leftovers should be used within three to four days.


In its Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, the Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends:

  • Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
  • If you must stuff the turkey, the stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it’s placed in the oven.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately, and combine just before using.
  • The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
  • Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish.

To read more information about cooking and stuffing a turkey, click here:  Poultry Preparation

Happy eating season, everyone!


To read the full FDA article, click here:  Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays

To watch our YouTube videos about foodborne illness, click here:  About Foodborne Illness; or here  Filing a Foodborne Illness Lawsuit

To watch our YouTube video about how to properly deep-fry a turkey, click here:  How to Deep-Fry a Turkey

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