Get festive with these food safety tips!

Gingerbread cookiesIt’s a busy time of year – people are traveling, there’s shopping to do and sometimes things fall by the wayside (like Aunt Marge’s fruitcake – yikes).

Still, it’s important to keep food safety at the forefront of holiday festivities to ensure the memories made are merry and bright (trust us, foodborne illness is neither of those things). Check out these food safety tips to help keep your holiday festivities food-safe.

Begin with the basics

  • Ensure your food preparation surfaces are clean. Think about the stuff that may be hitching a ride on the stuff that gets set on the counter – bags, purses, cousin Mel’s pet ferret – none of that goes well with turkey and stuffing.
  • Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly but avoid washing meat and poultry, such as turkey. Washing turkeys, for example, can spray bacteria onto surrounding surfaces and foods, thereby contaminating them. Cooking the bird/meat properly will destroy bacteria far better than a rinse.
  • This one’s important since according to new research, 95 percent of us are doing it incorrectly.  Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, ensuring that you clean the front and backs of your hands, fingers, and under your nails.

Preparing the feast

  • Thawing a turkey? Do so in the fridge, not on the counter or in hot water. Bacteria flourish at temperatures between 40-140°F (called “the danger zone”) so it’s important to avoid those temps. It takes about 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey when thawing in the fridge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes.
  • Was a meat thermometer on your wish list this year? If you don’t have one, it should be. Ensuring meat is cooked to the proper temperature is vital. And, no, judging “doneness” by color isn’t enough. Here’s a rundown of safe temps:
    • Turkey and chicken (and other poultry) – 165°F (including the stuffing)
    • Ground beef and pork – 160°F
    • Beef, pork, lamb chops, steaks and roasts with a three minute rest time– 145°F
    • Avoid cross-contamination. That means using different utensils, cutting boards and dishes for raw and ready-to-eat foods (or cleaning them thoroughly in between).

Desserts (or appetizers, for those who can’t wait until after dinner)

  • Treats are sweet but Salmonella is not. Avoid sampling uncooked confections that contain raw egg.
  • Pie filling (especially if they contain egg) should be cooked until it hits the safe internal temperature of 160°F. (This is especially important for meringue, cream or custard pies).
  • Just because it doesn’t involve meat doesn’t mean cross-contamination isn’t a concern. Clean surfaces, utensils, etc. after contact with a raw product, especially egg.

Serving leftovers (a.k.a. the late night snack)

  • Follow the two hour rule; that is, don’t leave food out for more than two hours. This could allow bacteria to grow. This includes desserts.
  • When putting leftovers away, place them in shallow dishes before putting them in the fridge. This will help them cool – and reach a safe storage temperature – faster.
  • Speaking of fridges, they should be set at or below 40°F. Likewise, freezers should be set at 0°F.
  • Leftovers generally are good for three to four days.
  • If reheating sauces, soups and the like, ensure they reach a rolling boil to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.

From all of us at Neogen, have a safe and wonderful holiday!

For more food safety tips, check out this fact sheet from For more tips from Neogen, click here.

Have pets? Check out these animal safety tips as well. 

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