December 2018
Homeplace & Community

Stay Healthy for the Holidays

Following a few simple tips when cooking for large groups can help avoid foodborne illness at your seasonal feast.

Preparing for the holidays, we will encounter a variety of sumptuous food offerings – from eggnog and unique cookies to appetizers and roasted meats. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) Food Safety Agents and website are offering recommendations to consumers to help them avoid foodborne illness while enjoying these seasonal feasts.

From office parties to traditional get-togethers at home, many kinds of foods will be present throughout the month. People should remember that food that has been sitting out for more than two hours invites bacterial growth which can lead to foodborne illness. Folks that are more at risk for foodborne illnesses are the young under the age of 5, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system who are going through treatments or have been in the hospital.

The best thing to do is to follow the Four Basic Food Safety Steps when preparing food to help reduce foodborne illness.  Those steps are:

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.

  • Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate.  Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.

  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked.

  • Chill – Refrigerate or freeze promptly.


The Holiday Buffet

Foods that have been sitting out for too long on the buffet or table at holiday parties can cause foodborne illness.  Many parties go on for several hours and food is often left at room temperature.  Be wary of any foods – hot or cold – that have been left out for more than two hours. This is also known as the "Danger Zone" – when food is between 40-140oF it allows bacteria to multiply. 

Any perishable foods on the table that are not served with a heating source (chafing dishes or slow cookers) or chilling source (nesting serving dishes in bowls of ice) should be discarded after remaining for two hours at room temperature.

Safely-cooked hot foods, like turkey, ham, stuffing, chicken fingers and meatballs, should be served hot and replenished frequently. While on the buffet, hot foods should be kept at a temperature of at least 140oF.  Cold foods, such as chicken salad or potato salad, should be served and kept cold – at or below 40oF. A helpful hint is to prepare extra serving platters and dishes ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator or keep them hot in the oven (set at approximately 200-250oF) before serving.


The Dessert Table

Bacteria can also multiply quickly in moist desserts that contain dairy products. Keep eggnog, cheesecakes, cream pies and cakes with whipped-cream or cream-cheese frostings refrigerated until serving time.

Some of America’s favorite holiday foods may contain raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs. Most commercially-sold eggnog is pasteurized, meaning the mixture has been heated to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have been present in the raw ingredients. However, if you’re making your own eggnog, be sure to use a recipe that calls for slowly heating the mixture to 160oF. This will maintain the taste and texture while also killing bacteria.

Do not allow children (or adults) to eat raw cookie dough or lick the beaters after mixing batter containing eggs. Raw eggs could be contaminated with salmonella – a leading cause of foodborne illness.


Helpful Food Safety Resources

Alabama Cooperative Extension System Food Safety Website and food blog:

There is no place like home for Food Safety is a handout covering food safety when shopping for foods, storing foods, cooking foods correctly, serving and storing leftover foods.

ACES Local County Extension Office and Regional Food Safety and Quality Agents are available to answer questions you may have on Food Safety and Quality.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: Food safety experts available year-round from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET to answer questions about safely preparing and cooking foods.  The toll-free number is 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).  Recorded messages are available 24 hours a day. The USDA also has its own food-safety web page:

Cooking For Groups Brochure – Helps hosts of large dinner gatherings and parties prepare and serve food safely for large groups. 

Holiday Buffets Fact Sheet – A concise one-page summary about common types of foodborne bacteria associated with holiday foods. The fact sheet also provides recommendations from USDA’s Meat and Poultry hotline that will help you have a safe holiday party. 

Fight BAC website:

There are many other food safety websites too that you can find great information on. Just type "food safety" into your web browser.   



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.