Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

The holidays are for spending time with friends and family while feasting on incredible food! Don’t let the party turn sour. Learn essential food safety tips for preparing, serving and keeping leftovers.

Learn essential holiday food safety tips for preparing, serving and keeping leftovers.

With entertaining at a premium this time of year, it’s an excellent opportunity to talk shop about food safety tips. Though ensuring safety applies to all cooking, it becomes particularly important when considering the larger-scale cooking, serving and storing that comes with hosting guests.

Serving Temperatures

When considering safe serving and holding temperatures, the FDA has a variety of recommendations.

Hot food: Should be served and kept in chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays, though some trays only heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (note all recommended temperatures are in Fahrenheit). You’ll need one that holds at 140 degrees, as this is the required temperature to keep bacteria at bay.

Cold food: Items must be cooled from 140 to 70 degrees within two hours and from 70 to 41 degrees within an additional four hours. Always, your goal should be to cool as quickly as possible. For serving and keeping cold, I suggest buying trays that leave space at the bottom for ice–there are some that are specially made for this purpose, though you can always lay something on top of ice in another tray. Make sure you have towels on hand to soak up any melting water.

In general, it’s recommended that food is kept out at room temperature no longer than two hours!

Using a meat thermometer to check internal temperature of a chicken

Turkey Defrosting Tips

Defrosting a turkey is a subject that always comes up, mainly because it’s easy to get wrong while easy to do correctly at the same time. It’s imperative to follow strict guidelines, as leaving such a large piece of uncooked meat out at room temperature can quickly become dangerous.

The first thing to know is that you need to start defrosting before Thanksgiving morning. The safest and best way is to thaw in the refrigerator, since it stays cold the entire time, preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. As long as you have enough time–24 hours for every four or five pounds of turkey–this is the easiest and safest method.

Your refrigerator should clock in at 40 degrees. Leave the turkey in its original wrapping, place it on a pan or tray and keep it at the bottom of your fridge, so any juices leaking don’t contaminate anything else. You can also thaw in cold water, but that’s much more labor-intensive, and you’ll have to ensure your water stays at 40 degrees the entire time, though many hours of defrosting.

Prevent Cross Contamination

While cooking, you should watch out for cross-contamination, particularly between raw and cooked foods. The golden rule is to wash your hands often–this will eliminate much of the problem. Surfaces should also be cleaned regularly–cutting boards, knives, and other utensils, counters, sinks, stovetops and pots and pans.

If anyone takes a bathroom break, they’ll have to wash their hands, too. Take care to use separate plates for raw versus cooked, and if you don’t have enough, make sure to wash thoroughly with warm water.

What To Do With Leftovers

In general, you’ll want to save like with like when it comes to leftovers, as different fruits and vegetables can emit gases that aid deterioration in other foods. Always store meats, fruits, and vegetables in airtight, leak-proof containers or wraps. Each container should be on the smaller side, so it cools faster–remember, we want to cool as quickly as possible to limit the opportunity for bacteria to grow.

Stuffing should be stored separately from turkey so that it can cool adequately, too. Take care not to stuff the refrigerator too full–there needs to be room for cool air to circulate, so everything cools quickly and correctly.

Use these essential tips to ensure that your holiday feasts safe and delicious!

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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