Food Safety Basics for the Holidays

— Written By Courtney Tevepaugh
en Español / em Português

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Turkey and vegetables on tableAs we enter the holiday season many folks will prepare meals to feed more than just their own family. Feeding a crowd or simply cooking during the excitement, and sometimes chaos, of the holiday can raise the risk for foodborne illness. Risk can be managed by following a few simple steps. First, remember personal hygiene such as hand washing and wearing clean clothing. Avoid preparing food for others if you have been sick within the last 48 hours…in other words, don’t ‘gift’ the stomach bug to your loved ones! Start with a clean workspace. Be sure to wash and sanitize dishes, equipment, and surfaces following use.

Best practice is to keep hot foods at 135°F or higher. Chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers are useful tools for this. Cold foods should be held at 41°F or lower. Store under refrigeration as long as possible then place on serving dishes in or on larger dishes filled with ice. The range between 41°F and 135°F is known as the temperature danger zone, the zone in which harmful bacteria can easily grow on perishable foods. Examples of perishable items are cooked vegetables, pasta, and rice; raw and cooked meats, poultry, and fish; cut melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

When it comes to saving leftovers, perishable items should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Food can often go forgotten for hours after a holiday meal. If perishable food has been left out at room temperature for over 4 hours or more it’s best to discard. However, properly stored leftovers can be safely consumed within 7 days.

Safe Cooking Temperatures

Finally, cook food safely using a food thermometer. For example, the only way to know if a turkey is fully cooked is to temp check with a food thermometer. Poultry must reach an internal temperature of 165°F. Cooking temperatures vary by food, a detailed list of cooking temperatures is below.Cooking temps and times

COVID-19 Considerations

Due to COVID-19, many are wondering how to share food with others during the holidays. If receiving or delivering food during the holidays there are a few simple steps that can be followed to prevent foodborne illness and the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. If delivering food to others prepare using best practices for food safety, mark when food was prepared, and insulate the package while transporting. Be sure to coordinate the delivery of food for when someone is home and maintain physical distance. If you are receiving food this holiday refrigerate it as soon as possible and wash hands after handling food packaging. Leftovers can be consumed within 7 days if stored at 41°F or below. This information is based on the NC State Extension Safe Plates Program for Food Safety

We sincerely hope that these tips will help you to have a happy and healthy holiday season!