Top 5 Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

Food safety is probably not the first thing you think about when planning a holiday dinner. While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, some 76 million people get sick from food-borne illness every year, according to the CDC. Food safety can be a special challenge during the holidays. Not only is it cold and flu season, but the menu may includes more dishes than there is room for in the refrigerator or oven. Your menu may also include offerings from friends and relatives that have traveled for hours, or stored at room temperature for extended time. Furthermore, with all the distractions, it can be hard to recall our best kitchen practices.

To keep your holiday dinner from being the wrong kind of memorable, we gathered these five food safety tips from experts. If you can remember 5 items on your grocery list this season, you can remember these! Plan ahead for safety and keep this advice in mind:

Cook foods to proper temperature. Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Hot food should be cooked to at least 165 degrees (145 for steaks) and kept above 140 degrees during serving to be sure that any potential bacteria is eliminated. Play it completely safe and use a thermometer rather than relying on the “touch test.” For more about recommended food temperatures, follow this link.

Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Leaving food out too long is one of the biggest holiday food safety problems. We can easily lose track of time when there is company. Make sure the refrigerator is not over-packed and there is plenty of air circulating around the food so it can be properly cooled. Use smaller Tupperware to break down large amounts of leftovers and cut remaining meat off bone to allow it to quickly cool to proper temperature, as well as make it easier to store. Read more tips on how best to store leftovers.

Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe. Wash with hot water and soap, up to your wrists and between your fingers, for approximately 20 seconds.

Keep it clean! Start with clean countertops. Wash veggies and fruits, and even prepackaged greens, to minimize potential bacterial contamination. Have a cooking plan in place and ensure kitchen counters, sponges, cutting boards, and knives are all well scrubbed between preparations to avoid cross-contamination.

Keep guests out of the kitchen. Not only is a crowd dangerous when it comes to hot surfaces and open flames. Holidays also fall right in the middle of prime cold and flu season. Despite the temptation, it is important to prevent hungry friends from picking at the food while it is being prepared. Some smart cooks serve simple appetizers to give guest something to nibble on until the meal is ready.