Nutrition-wise blog

Holiday food safety tips

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. December 3, 2013

The holiday season is a time when we're often called on to make and take food to a variety of events. Now's the perfect time to brush up on food safety tips to ensure that your celebrations don't go awry.

The first thing to keep in mind is that some people are at greater risk of serious illness or even death from foodborne illness. Those at higher risk are infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, such as those who've had a transplant or who have HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes or kidney disease.

Here some tips to keep your feasts safe:

  • Clean. Use hot soapy water to wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces (including cutting boards). Repeat this throughout your preparation to ensure you aren't spreading bacteria around.
  • Separate. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods (cooked or raw). Use separate cutting boards or platters for meats, fruits and vegetables, and other foods.
  • Cook. Use a food thermometer. Cook turkey and other poultry to an internal temperature of 165 F (145 F for other roasts, steaks, or chops). Take the temperature at the innermost part of the bird's thigh and wing — and the thickest part of the breast. Stuffing should also be 165 F. Boil gravies, sauces and soups.
  • Keep it hot or cold. If serving buffet style, maintain safe temperatures. Keep hot foods hot (140 F or warmer) by using chafing dishes, slow cookers and warming trays. Keep cold foods cold (40 F or cooler) by nesting in bowls of ice.

Here are some safety tips if you're going to be transporting food:

  • Cook food completely, to its safe cooking temperature. Don't transport partially cooked foods.
  • Minimize temperature fluctuations. Remove food from the stove/oven just before leaving home. Carefully transfer food to a thermal container or slow cooker, wrap in heavy towels for extra insulation and place in a thermal tote or insulated bag. Use a cooler and/or ice to transport cold foods.
  • When you arrive, reheat hot foods to 165 degrees or boiling for liquids. Before serving, bring food up to the safe temperature (165 F). Get cold foods in to the refrigerator until ready for serve.

And finally, here's how to safely handle leftovers:

  • Refrigerate all leftovers in shallow containers within 2 hours of serving (1 hour if the air temperature is above 90 F).
  • Properly stored leftovers can be kept for 3 to 4 days. But if in doubt, throw them out. Be sure to reheat leftovers to 165 F before serving.
  • Consider leaving leftovers with the host. By the time you reach home, the food likely will be the in the danger zone — between 40 F and 140 F — when bacteria can quickly multiple.

How do you ensure food safety at home or when sharing a meal with family and friends?

Wishing you enjoyable and safe holiday meals,

Jennifer and Katherine

Dec. 03, 2013