Tips for Holiday Food Safety

For most Americans, the holidays are all about food, fun, and merriment. But for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the holidays mean more foodborne illnesses.

That’s because certain popular holiday foods and food practices can increase the risk for foodborne illness. As you prepare your holiday feasts, remember that children and infants produce less stomach acid than adults, making them more prone to foodborne illness. Pregnant women are also more vulnerable. If a pregnant woman gets food poisoning, the fetus is at risk because of its underdeveloped immune system. And older adults can be at higher risk due to poor circulation, reduced nutrition or compromised immune response.

Fortunately, you can take some simple measures to protect yourself and your family. Consider these tips for safely purchasing, storing, preparing and serving your holiday meals.

Purchasing and storing food

Separate raw meats. When purchasing your ingredients, place your meat and poultry items in the shopping cart last and separate them from other items. Be sure to bag your meats separately, too.

Refrigerate immediately. Take your groceries straight home and refrigerate meats immediately.

Inspect canned foods for dents and defects. Don’t purchase cans that are dented, cracked or bulging.

Wrap meat to contain juices. Wrap or bag your meat before placing it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t leak raw juices onto other foods.

Check your refrigerator temperature. Keep your refrigerator below 40 F to prevent growth of foodborne bacteria.

Preparing and serving food

Thaw meats in the fridge. The FDA says that when thawed in the refrigerator or at a temperature of 40 F or less, a 20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely. Thawing a turkey completely before cooking is important. Otherwise, the outside will be done before the inside, and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria (alternately, by the time the inside is properly cooked, the outside will be overcooked and dried out).

Consider cooking your stuffing separately. It’s more difficult to cook stuffed poultry to the proper temperature. If you do stuff your bird, do it right before cooking rather than the day before, to minimize the opportunity for bacteria growth.

Cook your meats at 325 F or higher. This will kill any harmful bacteria.

Refrigerate food within two hours. If you plan to attend a party, think about how long that food may have been sitting out accumulating bacteria. According to Michigan State University, bacteria are the source of 67% of all food poisonings in the U.S. These bacteria thrive when food is left out between 40 and 140 F for longer than two hours.

Practice good personal hygiene. Always wash your hands before preparing food. Scrub thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you are cooking with children, make sure they wash their hands, too.

The keys to food safety

In summary, remember these tips from the FDA:

  • Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate food products to prevent cross-contamination. Be especially careful with raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Cook to proper temperatures to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
  • Refrigerate food promptly. Set your refrigerator at 40 F and your freezer at 0 F.

Practicing food safety can go a long way toward protecting your family from dangerous foodborne illnesses this holiday season.