holiday food safety tips

12 holiday food safety tips

The holiday season is almost here, and for many of us, that means celebrating with our family and friends…and food! Practicing food safety in your kitchen while preparing holiday meals is a must to keep the holidays happy for everyone. 

Here are 12 food safety tips to keep in mind this holiday season brought to you by the food safety experts at Ehrlich’s sister company, Steritech.

1. Plan ahead for thawing

Use your refrigerator to thaw your turkey. Plan ahead – safe thawing takes time! For every five pounds of frozen turkey, allow 24 hours of thawing time. If you’ve got a 15-pound gobbler, you’ll need three days to safely thaw it.

Place the turkey in a tray or container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. The tray or container should be deep enough to collect any draining fluids, preventing contamination of other foods in your refrigerator. Use caution not to spill the contents when removing it from the refrigerator.

Why can’t you just thaw your turkey by sitting it on the counter? The simple answer is bacteria growth. When you leave an item out on a counter to thaw, the outside layers become warm much faster than the inside layers. That temperature change allows bacteria on the turkey to grow, and that bacteria can make people sick.

Thanksgiving Turkey with All the Sides

2. Leftover safety

Many of us enjoy that next-day turkey sandwich, but leftovers have their own set of food safety rules to follow.

Keeping leftovers safe to eat begins with cooling and storing them properly. Leftovers must be cooled to below 70°F (21°C) within 2 hours, and then to 41°F (5°C) or below within an additional four hours.

To do this, break large and thick foods into smaller portions. For example, if you’ve got five pounds of mashed potatoes, break it into three or four smaller containers. Use shallow containers for quicker cooling. Avoid sealing containers until food has fully cooled.

When reheating, make sure that the food reaches a temperature of 165°F (74°C), and reheat the food only once. If you can’t eat the leftovers in three to four days, freeze them.

3. Wash all produce

Produce has become one of the top food groups associated with foodborne illness outbreaks. While it is impossible to know if produce is contaminated by looking at it, you may be able to reduce the dangers by washing all produce first, even packaged produce that indicates it has been pre-washed.

It’s important to understand that washing produce doesn’t necessarily prevent foodborne illness. Because cooking is required to kill many bacteria, produce that isn’t cooked (salads, fresh veggie trays, etc.) can still carry harmful pathogens. Cutting through produce, like melons, can also transfer bacteria from the surface into the flesh.
To best avoid foodborne illness from produce, be aware of any produce recalls or foodborne illness outbreaks as you shop, and avoid foods that may be questionable.

Colorful array of fruits and vegetables.

4. Avoid cross-contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when pathogens from one food product or surface transfers to an uncontaminated food product or surface. Therefore, it’s important to thoroughly clean kitchen counters, cutting boards, utensils, and your hands in between tasks.

If you’ve just cut meat or poultry, be sure the knife, cutting board, and any surface that the meat or poultry came in contact with are properly washed and sanitized before proceeding to other tasks. It’s a good idea to use separate cutting boards and preparation areas for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods, such as produce. If possible, perform these tasks at separate times to avoid cross-contamination.

5. Don’t be tempted by dough and batter

Although it’s a time-honored tradition in many households to let children (and even some adults) taste-test the dough and batter of sweet treats, such as cookies, pies, and cakes, avoid the temptation to do so. We’ve long been warned that uncooked eggs in batter contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, but now new advice from regulatory agencies suggests that uncooked flour can also harbor pathogens, such as E. coli.

Pastry dough covered in flour rolled out next to a rolling pin on a baking counter.

6. To stuff or not to stuff…

When it comes to cooking the stuffing inside the bird, a lot of people have very strong opinions. It’s a personal preference, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service advises consumers to cook stuffing in a separate dish for food safety purposes. Stuffing cooked inside the turkey can potentially pick up dangerous bacteria that are naturally present, such as Salmonella. If it doesn’t get cooked properly, that stuffing can become a vehicle for foodborne illness.

If you’re a stuffing traditionalist and want to cook it inside the turkey, use a clean and sanitized meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing before removing your turkey from the oven. A thermometer inserted into the center of the stuffing should read at least 165°F (74°C).

Homemade Thanksgiving Holiday Stuffing with Celery and Onions.

7. Cooking your turkey and other proteins

To ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly, roast your turkey at a temperature of 325°F (163°C) or higher.

Before removing your bird from the oven, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. It should be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C). Insert the thermometer at several spots, including the thickest part of the turkey on the thigh, to ensure all parts of the bird have reached this temperature. Avoid having the thermometer touch the bone, as this could give an inaccurate temperature reading.

If you are cooking a protein other than turkey, those foods also have recommended internal temperatures to indicate they are cooked thoroughly. Remember, you can’t tell if meat is safely cooked by looking at it. Insert a meat thermometer at the densest part and check for these temperatures:

  • Turkey/Poultry – 165°F (74°C)
  • Beef Roast – 145°F (63°C)
  • Fresh Ham – 160°F (71°C)
  • Fully-cooked Ham – 140°F (60°C)

8. Be allergy aware

Food allergies can be life-threatening, so it’s important to be allergy aware. Ask your guests ahead of time if they have any food allergies and take them seriously. If possible, avoid using those foods in the kitchen. If not, take precautions to protect other foods from becoming contaminated with allergens. This includes not using the same utensils, mixing bowls, etc., without thoroughly washing and sanitizing those tools first. If you are using prepared mixes, remember to read the label thoroughly.

The most common food allergens are:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

9. Seasonal beverage precautions

Often, merriment includes special beverages only available at this time of year. But remember, unpasteurized products carry with them a food safety risk. Purchase eggnog, apple cider, and other seasonal beverages labeled PASTEURIZED to avoid potentially harmful pathogens.

eggnog

10. Check for food recalls and outbreaks

Food recalls and foodborne illnesses can strike at any time. Pay attention to news reports and government-issued recalls and updates. Go to FoodSafety.gov for the latest information.

11. Health of your guests

When hosting larger gatherings, put your guests at ease by providing hand sanitizer, masks, and serving utensils to avoid hand-to-food contact. Having some of these items on hand may help to prevent the transmission of contagious viruses to others.

12. Be a travel pro

Finally, remember if you’re traveling with food, it’s important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. When foods are allowed to cool then warm up, they go into the temperature danger zone and can quickly grow bacteria that can make people sick. Use insulated carriers to help keep food temperatures safe and consistent.

From all of us at Western Exterminator, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Krissie Callahan

As the Communications Manager for Rentokil North America, Krissie specializes in writing, editing, and shaping both internal and marketing messages for the company. When she's not at work, you can usually find her taking in a live music performance in her hometown of Charlotte, NC.

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