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15 Holiday Food Safety Tips to Remember

serving holiday food to family

Holiday food safety tips can ensure you have a healthy holiday season. It's easy to neglect practical food safety tips during the holiday rush, but a simple list of holiday food safety tips can keep you on track.

Holiday Food Safety Tips for COVID-19

Holiday food safety is even more important under the threat of the coronavirus. Extra precautions are important to ensure everyone has a healthy holiday.

1. Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill

Whether you have COVID-19 concerns or simple food safety concerns, you should always practice the four steps for food safety. These steps in order are clean, separate, cook, and chill.

2. Keep Surfaces Sanitized

One of the most important aspects of cooking and baking is doing so on properly sanitized surfaces. You can use a commercial disinfectant or a DIY solution. Dave Joachim and Andy Schloss, authors of The Science of Good Food, recommend, "You should wash cutting boards, utensils, and work surfaces with a weak bleach and water solution." Be sure to rinse cooking supplies thoroughly afterwards with clean water.

You can create a sanitizer by adding 1/3 cup of plain chlorine bleach to one gallon of clean, fresh water. Put the solution in an unused spray bottle to spray countertops. Take a new sponge or cloth to wipe down the counter. You should never use these products or solutions on food.

3. Practice Regular Hand Washing

Wash your hands before preparing any food for cooking, baking, or serving. To properly wash your hands, use running water and soap. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds to ensure you remove all germs. Rinse your hand with clear water and use paper towel or a clean towel to dry them.

woman washing her hands

4. Wear Masks and Limit Number of Workers in Kitchen

You should wear a mask when cooking and baking. The number of people working in the kitchen should be limited to two or three, all wearing masks and practicing hand washing protocols.

5. Avoid Touching Your Face

Avoid touching your face when preparing, cooking/baking, and serving food. Touching your face can transfer germs.

6. Wash Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

Wash all fresh vegetables and fruits under running tap water. You should also wash those with rinds and skin that are consumed. For best results, use a produce brush. Never wash vegetables and fruit with soap or sanitizer! Clean the lids of canned goods before opening them as well. This will prevent any germs from getting into the contents of the can. Wipe the cleaned lid with a damp paper towel to remove any residue and finish with a dry paper towel.

7. Don't Work in Kitchen Around Food if Sick

If you are sick, you shouldn't be in the kitchen preparing food. You can sit it out and focus on getting well.

General Holiday Food Safety Tips

Food safety related issues are typically heightened around the holidays when many dishes are prepared in the same setting and leftovers are usually abundant. Schloss and Joachim note that, "The most common sources of food-borne illness are raw foods of animal origin, such as raw meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, unpasteurized milk and juice." You'll want to use one cutting board for raw proteins, such as poultry, meats, and fish and another one for herbs, fruits and vegetables.

8. Avoid Food Cross Contamination

In addition to the cooking utensils, prevent any kind of contamination with foods through cross contamination. This includes ingredients and different dishes you prepare.

Raw meat assortment

Schloss and Joachim advise, "Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from foods that will be eaten raw." They also recommend using separate cutting boards and plates for raw and cooked food. This way the chance of cross contamination is significantly decreased. Likewise, within two hours of leaving the grocery store, you should either freeze or refrigerate fresh meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, milk, butter, and all types of perishable foods. This practice prevents possible spoilage and contamination.

9. Mind Allergy Concerns for Guests

Schloss and Joachim mention that, "The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish." With this in mind, you should inform guests if you plan to serve anything that might be a potential allergen. You can avoid cross-contamination of food allergens by thoroughly washing pots, pans, and kitchen tools between uses. Schloss and Joachim add a reminder, "It's also important to avoid moving serving utensils from one dish to another, which can cross-contaminate a non-allergenic food with an allergenic food."

10. Prep for Holiday Food Safety

Before you cook or bake, make sure you have everything you need for a safe and healthy food environment. This includes cleaning precautions for tools as well as foods. Defrost the turkey and other meats in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the turkey, it may take several days for it to defrost. If you can't wait on the slow refrigerator process, you can place the turkey in cool water, but you must empty and change the water every thirty minutes.

11. Holiday Food Safety When Cooking a Stuffed Turkey

Roasting a stuffed turkey or other poultry has specific food safety protocols. Joachim and Schloss explain, "If disease-causing bacteria are present in meats or poultry, most will be on the surface, including the skin and the walls of the internal cavity."

Preparing turkey dinner

12. Cook Stuffing Separately From Turkey

The cooking duo suggests, cooking the stuffing and the turkey separately if possible. You can flavor the stuffing by using the turkey drippings. If you wish to serve the turkey with the stuffing inside the cavity, you can easily spoon the stuffing into it once the turkey has been cooked.

13. Learn How to Cook the Stuffing With the Turkey

May cooks prefer to cook the stuffing inside the turkey cavity, so the two will cook together. Schloss and Joachim advise, "When taking the internal temperature of the turkey, be sure to test the temperature of the stuffing." Both temperatures should be above 165°F to be considered safe enough to kill all bacteria.

14. Use a Food Thermometer

Food thermometers are incredibly useful tools to have in the kitchen, especially when prepping holiday meals. Schloss and Joachim say when cooking a turkey, the "whole turkey is safely cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the bird." They say you'll need to, "Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast (without touching bone)."

Using a food thermometer to check temperature of roast turkey

15. Cook Food to the Proper Temperature

Undercooked or under-baked dishes can pose a health risk to you and your guests. Serving food must also be done at appropriate temperatures to avoid risky ingredients sitting out for too long. Cooking at an unsafe food temperature can lead to food related illnesses.

16. Maintain Safe Food Temperatures

Another way to ensure holiday food safety is to maintain food temperatures by keeping hot foods hot (above 140°F) and cold foods cold (below 40°F) until you're ready to serve them. Should you accidentally leave something out on the counter that requires cooking or baking and you're unsure if it's safe to eat or use, dispose of it. It is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety.

17. Know Serving Temperatures for Holiday Food

Schloss and Joachim note, "If you are cooking foods ahead of time for your party, be sure to cook foods thoroughly to safe minimum internal temperatures." Typically, if you are following a recipe, it will state the proper food temperature that the food thermometer should read prior to serving. If something seems raw or undone, you should cook it a bit longer to ensure it is thoroughly cooked. Schloss and Joachim mention other popular holiday proteins should be cooked at proper temperatures for food safety.

These include:

  • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops - 145°F
  • All cuts of pork - 160°F
  • Ground beef, veal, and lamb - 160°F
  • All poultry - minimum internal temperature of 165°F
  • Stuffing should reach 165 degrees F

18. Serve Holiday Food Safely

To lower your risk of food related illnesses or issues, keep in mind the rule that hot food should be kept hot and cold foods should be chilled. According to Schloss and Joachim, hot foods should be kept at 140°F or warmer. Hot foods can be warmed in the oven, with the temperature settings of 200ºF to 250ºF. If you're serving foods buffet style, use slow cookers or warming trays to keep each dish at the perfect temperature.

woman taking food out of oven

19. Keep Cold Foods Cold

Cold foods should be kept in the refrigerator, at 40°F or colder. You can serve cold dishes immediately after removing them from the refrigerator, or use platters set on a bed on ice. Due to bacterial concerns, Joachim and Schloss advise, "Chilling is especially important for cream pies, cheesecake, eggnog, and other dishes containing eggs, cheese, and dairy products." They also state that it's important, "…not to leave perishables on a room-temperature buffet for more than 2 hours."

20. Store Food and Holiday Food Safety

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to holiday cooking and baking is food storage related issues. If you don't have enough refrigerator space, a neighbor, family member, or friend may be able to accommodate your food storage until the day of preparation. Another solution is to invest in a mini refrigerator, like one used in a college dorm.

21. Avoid Over Packing Refrigerators and Ovens

Schloss and Joachim say, "Refrigerators need open spaces between foods to ensure that cold air circulates freely." They also mention, "... a jam-packed oven heats more slowly and less evenly than one that has lots of space for circulating air currents."

22. Use Good Cooking Hygiene Practices

The holiday celebrations typically include an abundance of baked goods. To ensure your safety, Schloss and Joachim state, "...avoid licking the spoon or the mixing bowl if the batter contains uncooked eggs." This goes for any type of egg, even though it can be tempting to have a quick taste of batter. Raw eggs can contain salmonella. The eggshell poses a greater threat of bacteria if improperly washed, since it can harbor bacteria. You should be mindful of this, especially if you raise chickens for your eggs.

23. Store Leftovers Safely

Usually after a big holiday meal, there are plenty of leftovers. If you are still left with a fair amount of food, Schloss and Joachim recommend you, "...Divide cooked foods into small, shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer." They believe this makes it easier for the foods to cool quickly and keep better.

storing leftovers in a refrigerator

24. Store Food in Smaller Containers

When it comes to turkey or other meats, it's best to cut them into small slices and keep in the refrigerator or freezer in labelled containers. If holiday food is kept in the refrigerator, be sure to eat it within three to four days. When you reheat leftovers in the oven or microwave, they should be hot throughout and somewhat steamy.

25. Safely Give Homemade Gifts

Making a homemade gift is thoughtful and can make the gift receiver feel as if you went the extra mile for them. Think about giving sweets, such as jellies and jams, plain cakes, sturdy cookies, and non-creamy candies since they keep for several weeks at room temperature. The cooking duo suggests, "Spice rubs can be made in bulk and sealed in decorative bags or jars."

Remembering to Practice Holiday Food Safety Tips

Using food safety best practices can help ensure that your holiday party and meals are successful. As long as you are mindful of cooking and serving temperatures, as well as healthy food storage, your meals and desserts should work out as planned.

15 Holiday Food Safety Tips to Remember