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Holiday Food Safety

December 1, 2021

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With the holidays upon us, we know cheerful celebrations with food and drink are a given. Just remember to take food safety precautions during the hustle and bustle of the season.

Happy and safe holidays to you and yours!

Food Preparation:

  1. Before cooking or preparing anything - wash your hands! In between working with different dishes - wash your hands!
  2. Wash all fruits and vegetables. Even those with tough outer skins that you do not eat. When slicing these, the knife may pick up bacteria from the outer skin.
  3. Thaw meats in the refrigerator overnight. Never leave them on the counter to defrost. If defrosting in the microwave, make sure the meat is cooked soon after.
  4. If preparing a turkey, make sure it is completely thawed before cooking. Cooking a frozen turkey can lead to uneven cooking with the inside not being up to temperature. According to the FDA, a "20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator at a temperature of no more than 40 degrees F. A stuffed turkey needs 4 ¼ to 5 ¾ hours to cook completely."
  5. If marinating food then do so in the refrigerator - not on the counter! If you want to have extra marinade to use as a sauce later, make sure to separate a portion ahead of time. Never reuse marinating sauces!
  6. Do not reuse any batter or breading that has touched raw meat.
  7. Use one plate for raw meats and another clean plate to take cooked items to the serving area. Never use the same plate. The raw juices can contaminate your cooked meats and side dishes.
  8. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on kitchen projects. If you are faced with a grease fire, remember, put a lid on it, and turn the heat source off!
  9. That evil mayo - did you know according to the Department of Health, it is not really the mayo that is making those deviled eggs a dangerous game of chance. Instead, it is the fact that when making cold salads usually the ingredients are mixed together when still warm creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, chill all your ingredients separately before mixing them together.
  10. Use ciders labeled as pasteurized, or bring unpasteurized cider to a boil before serving. This is especially important when serving cider to people with weakened immune systems.

Setting the Table:

  1. If you set out a brunch style breakfast or buffet, and guests will arrive sporadically, pay close attention when leaving items such as milk or cooked meat on the table:
    - These foods are safe to leave out: Dry foods such as nuts, crackers, baked goods, breads, hard cheeses and candy don't support bacterial growth. Fruits, pickles, jams and jellies are too acidic for most bacteria.
    - Anything else should be discarded after sitting out for 2 hours.
    - To save milk or soy, make certain they are kept in the refrigerator instead of on the table.
    - An alternative is to keep cold items on ice. However, the ice will still need replacing every two hours or so.
  2. Supply plenty of clean plates and utensils. Encourage guests to get a new plate if theirs has been sitting out as they waited between helpings.
  3. Do not add new food to a serving dish that has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.


  1. Refrigerate any left over food within 2 hours of its initial serving. If the temperatures are higher, refrigerate 1 hour or sooner. Meat should be kept hot for serving (140°F) and unused meat should be refrigerated immediately as it cools. If you have too much left over meat, make sure to freeze whatever you won't eat within the next two days.
  2. Use left over turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within two to three days.
  3. Cut up any leftovers before refrigerating so they may be spread out on a tray. For meats like roast beef, this helps to make sure the meat cools at the same rate.
  4. Date leftovers - you'll appreciate it a week later when you've forgotten what food is from which feast.

Additional Precautions:

Turkey Fryers:

  1. Always use outdoors away from anything flammable. 
  2. Use on cement or stone surfaces - not on a wooden deck!
  3. Do not leave unattended. It is a very good idea to not have children and pets in the vicinity, better if they are inside. If they must be outside, make certain they are watched very carefully! Do not allow children and pets near the fryer as it cools after use either.
  4. Make certain the turkey is thawed before cooking - water and oil don't mix!
  5. Check the oil temperature frequently and immediately shut off if the oil begins to smoke. 

Gifts of Food via USPS, FED EX, UPS, etc.:

  1. If sending food as a gift via mail or delivery service, let the recipient know so they may look for the package.
  2. If you receive any gifts of food in the mail or from a delivery service, make certain to check that items that should have been kept cool were packaged properly.

Candle Decorations:

  1. Do not use candles on evergreen or natural trimmings.
  2. Use nonflammable holders and make sure they are placed where they cannot be knocked over easily.
  3. Do not keep candles lit in rooms that are not occupied by a responsible attendant.
  4. Check your candles as they burn. Some will burn unevenly and may finish sooner than you expected.
  5. Do not leave children unattended around candles and matches or lighters.


Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels


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