Infographic used to convey 4 simple steps to food safety

Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

With the holidays around the corner, food is an important element during the festivities. If you’re preparing for a big holiday meal make sure to take safety precautions in order to avoid foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food poisoning each year. Following these 4 steps you can keep your family safe from food related illnesses this holiday season.


 Before handling food, always wash your hands first. Wash with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, make sure to remove dirt from nails. Clean all surfaces that will come in contact with food with hot soapy water, this includes countertops, sinks, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes. Remember to cleanse fruits and vegetables under cool water before eating. If needed, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Refrain from rinsing raw meat before cooking. This could lead to the spread of bacteria in your sink and other kitchen surfaces.


When shopping, preparing meals or storing food in the refrigerator, make sure to separate foods that will not be cooked foods from raw eggs, meat, poultry or seafood. This is recommended in order to prevent cross contamination. Also, consider using different cutting boards. Utilize a cutting board for uncooked foods such as vegetables and another cutting board for meat and poultry. Do not put cooked foods on a surface or an unclean plate that once held raw meat, eggs, poultry or seafood.


It’s important to use a food grade thermometer when preparing meat, poultry and seafood. Make sure the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. When preparing turkey, make sure to insert the thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is ready when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Dishes with ground meats and eggs should be cooked to 160°F. Beef, pork lamb, veal, and fish should be cooked to 145 °F. The internal temperature of ham should be 140°F. The safe internal temperature when reheating food is 165°F. Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil when reheating.

When preparing homemade eggnog, use pasteurized eggs. This is especially important for pregnant or nursing mothers. Raw or unpasteurized milk or egg products can contain harmful germs. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than others to get Listeriosis, which is a foodborne infection caused by bacteria.


As a room of thumb, refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Harmful bacteria begins to grow when food is left at room temperature. Use your leftovers within 3-4 days. If leftovers are frozen, make sure to place the appropriate label with the date before storing. The refrigerator should be set at or below 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. Check the temperature with an appliance thermometer periodically. If the food looks or smells uncertain, do not eat. When in doubt, throw it out!

When thawing food, do so in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave using the defrost setting. When defrosting in the microwave, the food should be cooked immediately after. Never thaw food at room temperature or under hot water.

It’s important to plan ahead in order to properly thaw your food during the holiday season. A 20- pound turkey should take about 4-5 days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.

Following these 4 steps will help keep your family and friends safe during this holiday season and prevent many foodborne related illnesses. Additional food safety tips, how to safety order food through the mail, and how to cook a turkey for the holiday season.

By Mia Wilchcombe, FCS agent

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