November 2017
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Have a Safe and Delicious Holiday Season

Holiday Food Safety Facts

Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites can make you sick. Many people have had foodborne illness and not even known it. It’s sometimes called food poisoning and it can feel like the flu. Symptoms may include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Symptoms can start soon after eating contaminated food, but they can hit up to a month or more later. For some people, especially young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, foodborne illness can be very dangerous. No one wants to spend the holidays in the hospital or, for that matter, feeling miserable. The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are as many as 13 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States every year. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented by using safe food-handling practices and using a food thermometer to check if your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature!

It’s always important to keep foods out of the danger zone, between 41 and 135 degrees to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. To do this, just keep hot foods hot, at least 135 degrees and keep cold foods 41 degrees or lower.


Preparing and serving holiday buffets

Do not let foods linger during preparation; cook them thoroughly and serve them promptly. Keep hot foods hot with warming trays, chafing dishes or crockpots. Keep cold foods cold by placing serving dishes on crushed ice.

Remember the two-hour rule, especially when entertaining with a large meal or buffet. Don’t let perishable foods linger for longer than two hours in the danger zone.

Keep replacement dishes of food hot in the oven or a pot; or cold in the refrigerator or a cooler during the buffet.

Do not add new food to a serving dish that has been sitting at room temperature for over two hours. Remember to change serving utensils as well.

Provide serving spoons and tongs for every dish served. Even finger foods such as cut vegetables, candies, chips/nachos and nuts should have serving implements to prevent contamination among guests.


Traveling with food

Wrap hot food in foil and heavy towels, or carry in insulated containers to maintain a temperature of at least 140 degrees.

You can store cold foods in a cooler with ice/freezer packs to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees or below. Full coolers keep their temperature better than partially full ones, so add extra insulation to fill unoccupied space. This will also prevent containers from sliding, falling over and leaking.


Eggnog and other recipes with raw or lightly cooked eggs

Be sure to handle and prepare these tasty treats safely. Commercial, ready-made eggnog is prepared using pasteurized eggs and does not require heating. Homemade eggnog may contain harmful bacteria if not prepared properly. Prepare homemade eggnog using pasteurized egg products, found in most grocery stores.

If you choose to make eggnog with whole eggs, be sure to heat the egg/milk mixture to at least 165 degrees. Refrigerate it promptly. Once steaming stops, divide large amounts into shallow containers so it cools quickly.

Precautions should also be taken with sauces, mousses and any other recipes calling for raw or lightly-cooked eggs. Use pasteurized egg products or bring egg mixtures to a uniform temperature of 165 degrees. All of these foods must be stored in the refrigerator.



Popular holiday beverages such as unpasteurized apple cider and other drinks made from unpasteurized apple cider may pose a safety risk because they may contain harmful bacteria.

Serve pasteurized ciders or bring unpasteurized cider to a rolling boil before serving. This is especially important when serving cider to children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.


Leftovers: Storage and Reheating

While it is tempting to leave turkey and other foods at room temperature for snacking after a meal, you should refrigerate all leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers to allow them to cool quickly. Once steaming has stopped, refrigerate. Leave the lid or wrap loose until the food is cooled to refrigeration temperature. Avoid overstocking the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate freely.

Store any leftover turkey meat separately from the stuffing and gravy.

Reheat solid leftovers to at least 165 degrees. Bring gravy to a full, rolling boil, stirring during the process.

Use leftover turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within four days for best quality or freeze for later use.


Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.