Food safety for holiday festivities

It’s often said, “Tis better to give than to receive.”

But, in the case of foodborne illness, it’s better to do neither. In celebration of the holidays, check out these food safety tips to keep your holiday celebration memorable for Uncle Phil’s crazy Christmas sweater rather than a bout of salmonellosis.

Get squeaky clean

  • Wash hands (yes, with soap) for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean counters or other surfaces that will come into contact with food. Preparing food on a surface where your cat Fuzz just trotted is bad news. Hello, bacteria.


  • Having poultry? Don’t wash it. The spray can fling bacteria up to three feet, potentially hitting prepared foods, utensils and that delightful holiday brick of fruitcake.
  • Ask Santa to bring the gift of a meat thermometer early. The thermometer should be used to ensure meat is cooked to a safe temperature (going by color alone isn’t enough). The appropriate temperatures are:
    • Turkey and chicken (and other poultry) – 165°F (including the stuffing)
    • Ground beef and pork – 160°F
    • Beef, pork, lamb chops, steaks and roasts – 145°F
    • Avoid cross-contamination. Use different cutting boards and utensils for raw meats that must be cooked, and foods that require no further preparation or cooking (e.g., veggies for a veggie platter).
    • Once the raw meat leaves the plate, wash it. Avoid reusing the same plates and utensils used for raw materials to place cooked items on later.
    • If baked or roasted, meat should be cooked at least at 325°F. Cooking at low temperatures causes meat to hover at the “danger zone” (40—140°F), which can cause bacteria to proliferate. Remember to check the internal temperature to ensure it’s safe.

Desserts (yum!)

  • Baking cookies with Grandma can go south fast if you give in to the temptation to nibble on some raw dough or lick the spoon. If the mix contains raw egg, which can harbor pathogens such as Salmonella, skip the taste test and wait until the finished product is presented in all its glory.
  • Pie filling (especially if it contains egg – see the theme?) should be cooked until it reaches a safe 160°F (e.g., meringue, cream or custard pies).
  • Again, avoid cross-contamination.
  • Avoid leaving desserts (especially those made with egg and milk) out for too long as the moist environment can be a haven for proliferating bacteria. Follow the two hour rule – don’t leave food out for more than two hours.


  • We can’t say it enough – follow the two hour rule.
  • Finish up those delicious leftovers in three to four days.
  • Planning to freeze leftovers? Go ahead. Meat and poultry retain their quality for three to six months in the freezer. Remember to defrost them in the fridge and reheat them to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Holiday food safety questions? In a panic? The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) may be able to help. Check out their fact sheet here.

For general food safety guidelines, check out this FSIS fact sheet.

For more tips from Neogen, click here.

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