Food Safety for the Holidays
Prevent Food Poisoning During the Holidays
Feasting with family is part of many holiday celebrations. Follow these tips to help prevent food poisoning, or foodborne illness, during the holidays.
- Keep foods separated. Keep meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods at the grocery store and in the refrigerator. Prevent juices from meat, chicken, turkey, and seafood from dripping or leaking onto other foods by keeping them in containers or sealed plastic bags. Store eggs in their original carton in the main compartment of the refrigerator.
- Cook food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs have been cooked to a safe internal temperature to kill germs. Roasts, chops, steaks, and fresh ham should rest for 3 minutes after you remove them from the oven or grill.
- Keep food out of the “danger zone.” Bacteria can grow rapidly in the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F. After food is prepared, keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Refrigerate or freeze perishable food like meat, chicken, turkey, seafood, eggs, cut fruit, cooked rice, and leftovers within 2 hours (1 hour if food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F, such as in a hot car). The temperature in your refrigerator should be set at 40°F or below and the freezer at 0°F or below.
- Use pasteurized eggs for dishes containing raw eggs. Salmonella and other harmful germs can live on both the outside and inside of normal-looking eggs. Many holiday favorites contain raw eggs, including eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce, and Caesar dressing. Always use pasteurized eggs when making these and other foods made with raw eggs.
- Do not eat raw dough or batter. Dough and batter made with flour or eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Do not taste or eat raw dough or batter that is meant to be baked or cooked. This includes dough or batter for cookies, cakes, pies, biscuits, pancakes, tortillas, pizza, or crafts. Do not let children taste raw dough or batter or play with dough at home or in restaurants. Some companies and stores offer edible cookie dough that uses heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs or no eggs. Read the label carefully to make sure the dough is meant to be eaten without baking or cooking.
- Thaw your turkey safely. Thaw turkey in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), or in the microwave. Do not thaw turkey or other foods on the counter. A turkey must thaw at a safe temperature to prevent harmful germs from growing rapidly. Learn more about preparing turkey safely.
- Wash your hands with soap and water during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- After handling pet food or pet treats or touching pets
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After touching garbage
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
Pregnancy and Holiday Food
Pregnant people are at increased risk of food poisoning, so take extra care if you’re pregnant or preparing food for someone who is.
Pregnant people are 10 times more likely than others to get a Listeria infection.
Listeria infection can lead to problems with the pregnancy and serious illness or death in newborns.
Learn how to protect yourself from this harmful germ.
- Do not eat or drink raw or unpasteurized milk and products made with it, such as soft cheeses. They can contain harmful germs, including Listeria. Some examples of soft cheeses [PDF – 1 page] are queso fresco, Brie, Camembert, feta, goat cheese, or blue-veined cheese.
- Be aware that cheeses made from pasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, also have caused Listeria infections. These cheeses were most likely contaminated during cheese-making.
- Processed cheeses, cream cheese, mozzarella, and hard cheeses are safer choices.
- Don’t drink raw or unpasteurized juice and cider.
- Be careful with seafood. Do not eat smoked seafood that was sold refrigerated unless it is in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Instead, choose shelf-stable smoked seafood in pouches or cans that do not need refrigeration.
- Do not eat or taste raw flour, dough, or batter.
- Avoid some holiday beverages. Don’t drink holiday punches and eggnogs that contain alcohol.
- Drinking any type of alcohol can affect your baby’s growth and development and cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Avoid eggnog entirely unless you know it doesn’t contain alcohol and is pasteurized or made with pasteurized eggs and milk.
Read other food safety features to learn more about protecting yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning.