Holiday Food Safety Tips

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Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey on a Plate with Stuffing and Potatoes

Holiday meals can be memorable, but it takes more than a great recipe to make those memories happy.  Learn how to prepare your meal safely so that your holiday isn’t spent dealing with food poisoning. Below is a list of common food safety mistakes and tips for preventing them.

Scenario: After shopping to get ingredients for his holiday meal, Roberto makes three more stops before he goes home.

  • Science: Harmful bacteria multiplies when frozen and perishable food is left unrefrigerated for over two hours; one hour if the temperature is 90°F or higher.
  • Solution: Make grocery shopping the last stop before heading home. Place raw poultry, meat, and seafood in a separate bag to keep their juices from contaminating fruits and vegetables. If you won’t be home for one to two hours, use a thermal bag or cooler to keep perishable foods at the proper temperature while transporting. Learn more about safely transporting fruits and vegetables from the store to your table.

Scenario: Sasha puts the frozen turkey on a counter to thaw for five hours before roasting. Whole Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey with All the Sides

  • Science: A turkey is safe indefinitely while frozen. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature can creep into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.
  • Solution: Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never defrost a turkey on the counter. Learn more about methods for safely thawing turkey.

Scenario: Mark, in a hurry to get to the airport, grabs his half-cooked meal out of the microwave before it finishes cooking.

  • Science: Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food. Letting food sit for the recommended time after microwaving allows cold spots to absorb heat from hotter areas, cook more completely, and destroy any foodborne bacteria.
  • Solution: Know your microwave’s wattage. Follow recommended cooking and standing times, to allow for additional cooking after microwaving stops. Learn more about microwave ovens and food safety.

Scenario: Lydia hands bread to her sister, who just finished chopping raw oysters for the stuffing and hasn’t washed her hands.

  • Science: Raw seafood and raw meats may contain harmful bacteria that can make people sick. Those germs can spread to many other places, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards, and contaminate food that won’t be cooked before it is eaten.
  • Solution: Washing your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way can prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and your family. Learn CDC’s recommendations for washing hands.eggnog

Scenario: Jasmine uses raw eggs to make her favorite eggnog recipe for the office holiday party.

  • Science: Foods made with raw or undercooked eggs may harbor Salmonella, bacteria that can cause food poisoning and live on both the outside and inside of normal-looking eggs.
  • Solution: If your recipe for eggnog or homemade ice cream calls for raw eggs, avoid possible contamination by using pasteurized eggs or egg products, or a cooked egg-milk mixture. To make a cooked egg-milk mixture, heat it gently and use a food thermometer to ensure that it reaches 160°. Learn more about cooking with eggs and egg products.

Scenario: Jack has been sick with vomiting and diarrhea through the night, and he is supposed to make food for the holiday party the next day.

  • Science: Diarrhea and vomiting are frequently caused by norovirus, which spreads very easily by infected people handling and preparing food.
  • Solution: Do not handle or prepare food for other people when you are sick with vomiting or diarrhea, and for two days after symptoms resolve. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water to avoid spreading norovirus to other people. Learn more about norovirus prevention.

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4 comments on “Holiday Food Safety Tips”

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    I hate to admit this, but I always defrost my turkeys in the sink overnight (have never had a problem with illness). Doesn’t cooking the bird kill any bacteria that might have started growing? I am very conscientious regarding cross contamination.

    If raw meat or poultry has been left in the “Danger Zone” between 40F and 140F too long, bacteria may grow and produce toxins which can cause foodborne illness. Those toxins that are heat resistant are not destroyed by cooking. Therefore, even though cooked, meat and poultry mishandled in the raw state may not be safe to eat even after proper cooking.

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Page last reviewed: November 21, 2019
Page last updated: November 21, 2019