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5 Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

The upcoming weeks and months will be filled with holiday cheer and gatherings with family and friends. It really is the most wonderful time of the year! Unless you get food poisoning. That will put a damper on any holiday event.

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey Poster

Throughout the entire year there is a risk for foodborne illnesses, however, during the holiday season this risk seems to increase with lots of pooled food, large gatherings, and a little bit of chaos in the kitchen. Here are some helpful tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

1. Do not thaw birds on the counter.
Since the holidays tend to happen systematically, you can easily prepare for thawing the turkey. The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. This does take some time, so make sure to plan in advance. Water thawing is also an option, although it requires more attention. The water must be below 40°F and changed every 30 minutes. Use our How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey infographic to determine how long it will take to thaw your bird.

When you are finally ready to cook the turkey, use a food thermometer. Turkey can be a tricky meat to cook because it may still appear pink when it is fully cooked. The turkey needs to get to 165°F for at least fifteen seconds. If you don’t have a thermometer that can safely cook in the oven, you can spot check the turkey.

Then get out your finest carving knives and enjoy!

2. Leftover food and the refrigerator were a match made in heaven.
As much as we try to finish all that delicious food on the table, our eyes are often bigger than our plate. The good news? Holiday meals can just keep on giving for the rest of the week! Here are some tips on how to keep your leftovers safe:

  • Refrigerate or freeze all leftovers within two hours. If you are kind enough to let your guests take some leftovers with them, make sure they are not traveling for more than two hours. If they are, prepare a cooler or ice packs to keep the food safe.
  • Store leftovers in shallow pans to decrease their cooling time. The quicker leftovers cool, the less time they spend in the temperature danger zone (40°F–165°F).
  • Cut the turkey into smaller pieces, so it can cool down faster.
  • Store pumpkin pie (and most other pies) in the refrigerator, not the counter.

3. Pay attention to grandpa.
The elderly, infants, and anyone with a compromised immune system are always at a higher risk for any disease, including foodborne diseases. They cannot fight off sicknesses as easily as others. Be especially careful to follow proper food handling procedures and keep their food safe.

4. Specialty foods can have special side effects.
Some people wait all year for eggnog and apple cider to make their rare appearance during the holiday season. Here is what you should know:

  • Traditional eggnog contains raw eggs. While cooking can destroy the bacteria, eggnog is often left out at room temperature. So keep your eggnog chilled or to increase safety, buy beverages made with pasteurized eggs.
  • Apple cider is usually pasteurized, but some stores sell unpasteurized apple cider. Unpasteurized cider may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness. Read the label carefully and avoid the risk of unpasteurized cider.
  • Seafood, another popular dish for holiday gatherings, requires special care. Make sure to buy only fresh seafood that has been refrigerated or properly iced. When storing it before the big day, make sure to keep it safely out of the temperature danger zone.

5. Give your hands a bath.
Proper hand hygiene is one of the most important actions we can take to avoid spreading diseases, both to ourselves and others. The holiday season means lots of time around family and friends. And while all that togetherness is heartwarming, it can also be a breeding ground for pathogens to spread. Show your loved ones you really care about them by washing your hands.

Be safe and have a great holiday season!

— Jessica Hill

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