Food Safety and Holiday Meals

Four Steps to Follow to Keep Food Safe

Now that you have purchased your food for the holiday let’s look at preventing foodborne illness. CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Most individuals suffer from mild symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea that will last from several hours to several days. Some individuals will not realize they have a foodborne illness and may think they have a mild cause of the flu or an upset stomach. Some types of foodborne illness can be more deadly. The very young, older adults, pregnant women and people who are chronically ill are at greater risk. This problem can be corrected or prevented if food is handled safely from the time it is purchased until the time it is served. The four simple steps an individual can follow to prevent foodborne illness are: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. If you follow the safety precautions with each of these steps you are on the right track to practicing good food safety skills.


The number one goal is to be sure you properly wash your hands to insure you do not spread diseases. You should wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before food preparation, after handling raw meats, fish or poultry, before eating and after using the bathroom. Bacteria will spread throughout the kitchen if you do not keep utensils, cutting boards and countertops cleaned properly. Clean with hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly and let surfaces air dry. Cutting boards, knives and surfaces that are in contact with raw meats should be sanitized in a mild sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented household bleach with 1 gallon warm water. Items should be immersed in the solution for 1 minute and let air dry. A kitchen towel is not recommended for use because it could contaminate the dishes. Also, bacteria can grow in damp, dirty towels. Wash dishcloths, sponges and towels frequently. Regularly clean your refrigerator shelves and cupboard drawers with dish detergent and warm water to remove dirt, food and grease that could contaminate food. Always wash whole fruits and vegetables that will not be peeled or cooked.


Separate or do not cross contaminate. All raw meats should be wrapped in a separate package and stored or bagged away from other foods while shopping. It is a good idea to have one cutting board you use for raw meats and one you use for other items. You should always wash your cutting board in between uses. It is a good practice to always wash your hands and food preparation surfaces after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and fish. Never place your cooked food back on a plate that held raw meat unless you have washed and sanitized the plate first. Place foods to thaw on a plate or in a pan on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator to prevent them from dripping onto other foods in the refrigerator. Store food in airtight containers to prevent contamination from drips and mold.


Cooking food seems easy however you should make sure you cook food to the proper internal temperatures. Cooking destroys harmful micro-organisms so foods not cooked to recommend temperatures can be unsafe to eat. A food thermometer is the only tool that can determine the proper temperature of food. According to it is important to follow the minimum food temperature cooking guidelines.


Chill means keep foods at the proper temperature. Your refrigerator temperature should be set between 34 and 39 degrees F. A freezer should be set at 0 degrees F or colder. The colder the freezer temperature, the longer your food will last. Invest in a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. Thaw foods safely using one of the following methods: in the refrigerator, during cooking or in the microwave oven followed by immediate cooking. Do not let foods stand for more than 2 hours at temperatures of 40 to 140 degrees F. Cool foods in small amounts at a time in the refrigerator to prevent raising refrigerator temperature.

For more information contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. In Alachua County call 352-955-2402 or email Family and Consumer Science Agent, Martha B. Maddox or website


Follow these guidelines to practice good food safety but remember “when in doubt, throw it out.”


Posted: December 20, 2019

Category: 4-H & Youth, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Chill, Cook, Food, Food Safety, Holiday, Holiday Meals, Holidays, Separate

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