Food safety tips for the holidays


Follow these steps to help you safely prepare and serve your next holiday meal.

food safety tips

1.  CLEAN: Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating.

2.  THAW SAFELY: Choose one of the following options to thaw frozen foods (e.g., raw meats/ fish, frozen soups or casseroles) safely.

  • In the refrigerator and in a container to prevent any juices from leaking on other foods, OR
  • In a leak-proof plastic bag and submerged in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), OR
  • In the microwave, following the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions

Never thaw food by leaving it out on the counter. When temperature-sensitive food (e.g., thawed meat) is left out at room temperature, it’s temperature becomes unsafe over time. The outside of foods will thaw faster than the center and bacteria can grow rapidly in foods within the “temperature danger zone” between 41 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and 135 degrees F.

Thawed food should be immediately cooked or stored in the refrigerator.

3.  SEPARATE RAW FROM READY: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from other cooked or fresh foods. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw animal meat/products or wash these surfaces/utensils in hot, soapy water before using them to prepare the next food. Organize your prep to work with fresh produce before raw animal meat/products if possible. Plan to complete all food prep within 2 hours.

  • Handle Your Turkey Correctly. Handling poultry incorrectly and undercooking it are common problems that lead to foodborne illness. Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria and poultry juices can easily spread in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops. Do not wash or rinse raw turkey or chicken

.Use a food thermometer to ensure turkey is cooked to 165 degrees

4.  COOK TO TEMP: Meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs need to reach a specific cook temperature to destroy bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Use a meat thermometer and cook to a safe minimum internal temperatures. Cook all poultry, stuffed foods and casseroles to at least 165 degrees F. Reheated foods must also reach at least 165 degrees F before served. Promptly serve cooked foods.

  • Turkey: Set the oven temperature to at least 325 degrees F. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F by inserting it into the thickest parts of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.
  • Stuffing: Cook stuffing separately or put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165 degrees F. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing; this allows it to cook a little more.

5.  CHILL LEFTOVERS: Keep leftovers safe. Cooked foods like gravies, roast meats and poultry, casseroles, soups and sauces left too long at room temperature or in the “temperature danger zone” and improperly reheated can quickly and easily grow toxin-producing bacteria. This type of food poisoning commonly happens around the holidays.

Refrigerate or freeze perishable, temperature-sensitive food within 2 hours (1 hour if ambient Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.temperature is above 90 degrees F) or discard it. Break down large dishes into shallow, smaller portioned containers to get  refrigerated foods to safe cold holding temperatures quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F before serving. Freeze or discard refrigerated leftovers that can’t be eaten within 4 days.

More information

USDA Food Safety and inspection Service: Leftovers: Let’s Keep the Best Part of Thanksgiving Safe.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Safety Tips for your Holiday Turkey

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Safety Tips for your Holidays

USDA Food Safety and inspection Service: Let’s Talk Turkey – A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting Turkey

USDA Food Safety and inspection Service: Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table (e.g. Grilling, Frying)

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.