10 Holiday Food Safety Tips

Make food safety a part of your holiday meal. Safely prepare, cook and chill foods so harmful bacteria won't make you sick. Follow these tips for a healthy holiday.


Eggs, cream, pumpkin, turkey, stuffing.

Is that all you need? Food safety should be atop your list this holiday season, too. Just like any other key ingredient, your festive feast could be ruined without it.

Harmful bacteria cheap antibiotics grow and thrive on foods that are not safely prepared, cooked or chilled. If you eat these bacteria, you could get food poisoning. Common bacteria that cause illness include E.coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureas.

But with some careful planning and attention to detail, you can be food safe this holiday season. Follow these tips:

  1. Buy your turkey or ham at the right time. Do not buy fresh turkey or ham too far in advance. If you buy frozen turkey, allow enough time for it to thoroughly thaw in the refrigerator. Follow these guidelines: 
    • Fresh turkey should be purchased one to two days before you cook it. Keep it refrigerated.
    • Frozen turkey takes 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. A 10-pound frozen turkey will take two to three days to thaw before it can be cooked.
    • Fully cooked ham should be eaten by the "use-by" date on the package. If there is no date, eat it within three to five days of purchase.
    • Cook-before-eating hams should be cooked and eaten within seven days of purchase.
  2. Thaw properly. Food should never be thawed on the kitchen counter. Thaw in the refrigerator or in cold water. To thaw in water, keep the meat in its original packaging or place it in a leak-proof bag. Fully submerge the food in a clean pot or pan containing cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the food immediately after it's thawed.
  3. Clean your hands and surfaces. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before you prepare any food. Wash your hands again after handling uncooked foods. Make sure all utensils, dishes and surfaces are clean, too.
  4. Separate. To avoid cross-contamination, keep uncooked foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Use one cutting board for raw meats and a different one for produce. Always use a clean plate for cooked foods, not one that previously held uncooked meat.
  5. Use a food thermometer. Cooking foods to a safe internal temperature kills harmful bacteria. You cannot tell if a food is done cooking just by looking at it. A food thermometer is a necessity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says holiday foods are safe to eat at these temperatures:

Turkey and other poultry


Fully cooked hams

May be eaten cold or reheated to 140°F

Cook-before-eating hams



145°F (Ground beef to 160°F)


145°F(Ground lamb to 160°F)



Stuffing (Cook in a casserole dish, not inside the turkey, for optimal safety.)


Egg dishes, including eggnog (Eggnog should be cooked first, and then cooled in the refrigerator. Never eat uncooked eggs.)


Cream or custard pies



Reheated to 165°F


  1. Never partially cook any foods because it puts foods in the "danger zone." The danger zone is the temperature range where bacteria thrive, between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
  2. Serve food safely:
    • Use several small trays to serve your guests, instead of using a large one. Keep extra food hot in the oven or cold in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Use a new tray when serving more food instead of replenishing existing platters.
    • Keep hot foods hot. Hot items should be kept at 140 degrees F or hotter. Keep these foods hot by serving them in chafing dishes, warming trays and slow cookers.
    • Keep cold foods cold. Place cold foods in dishes that are surrounded by ice.
  3. Chill promptly. Food should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate leftovers right after serving.
  4. Store food in shallow containers. Divide leftovers into shallow containers before you put them in the fridge or freezer. This will allow the food to cool quickly and evenly.
  5. Safely enjoy leftovers. Leftovers are only safe to eat for a few days after being cooked. Eat or freeze leftovers within three to four days. When reheating food in the microwave, make sure the entire portion is hot. And, only reheat the amount of food you will eat. Repeated heating and cooling encourages bacteria to grow.