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Food Safety During the Holidays

Food is an important part of many holiday celebrations. But don’t let food-related illness ruin your holiday.

Four Steps to Food Safety

  • Clean – Clean your hands, surfaces, and utensils with soap and water before cooking. 
  • Separate – Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils to avoid cross-contamination between foods that are ready to eat, and raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
  • Cook – Use a thermometer to check the temperature.  You cannot tell just by looking at the color and texture if food is fully cooked.  Turkey should be cooked to 165° F. 
  • Chill – Do not leave foods at room temperature more than two hours.  After you are done eating, divide the remaining food into small containers and either refrigerate or freeze.  Leftovers are safe in the refrigerator for up to four day.

Refrigerate cooked foods that are not served immediately. If food is left unrefrigerated longer than two hours, the chance of bacterial growth increases.

Prevent Bacteria From Getting into Food

  • Hands should always be thoroughly washed with soap and warm water before handling food.
  • Towels and wash cloths should be kept clean. Sponges are known for harboring bacteria, so eliminate or limit their use in the kitchen.
  • Counter tops and utensils should be washed with hot, soapy water between each step in food preparation.

Proper Thawing and Cooking

Many warm-blooded animals, turkeys and other poultry often harbor Salmonella and other organisms that can cause food-related illness. Purchased and packaged meats, too, can be contaminated with these organisms. Proper thawing and cooking are important to avoid these illnesses. The following precautions should be taken:

  • Store all raw meat products on the bottom shelf or separate from other food products in your refrigerator especially during the thawing process. This will help keep raw meat juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Start early and thaw turkey in a refrigerator or in a place where the air temperature is no higher than 40° F. A 20-pound turkey will take about three days to thaw completely in a refrigerator.
  • Do not begin cooking a turkey until it has completely thawed.
  • It is safer and preferred that stuffing be cooked separately. However, if you do stuff the bird, do so just before cooking it. Stuff it loosely so the stuffing cooks thoroughly. Remember to wash hands before stuffing the bird.
  • Be sure meat and poultry reach the temperature indicated in the chart at the end of this brochure to make sure they are cooked thoroughly.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding fat and bone. For poultry, insert it into the thick part of the thigh next to the body.
  • Wash and rinse the thermometer between uses to prevent possible contamination.
  • Cook meat and poultry completely without interrupting the cooking process; an interruption could allow bacteria to grow.


  • After the meal, immediately refrigerate leftovers such as meat, dressing, gravy or soups in small shallow containers.
  • Do not allow foods to sit several hours at room temperature as this will provide time for the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Refrigerate stuffing and other items separately from the bird.
  • Do not cool leftovers on the kitchen counter. Divide them into smaller portions so they will cool more quickly and put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible.
  • Serve leftovers either very cold (directly from the refrigerator) or very hot (heated to 165° F or higher).
  • Cover leftovers to reheat. This helps maintain moisture and ensures that meat is heated thoroughly.
  • Eat refrigerated turkey within three to four days and stuffing and gravy within one to two days.

When made with raw products, there are some foods that should be avoided altogether. These include oysters and egg drinks, mousse or bread pudding, unless made with pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who are ill or whose immune systems are compromised should not eat raw or undercooked animal products or raw oysters unless they have consulted their physician.

Meat and poultry that are cooked thoroughly to these temperatures are generally safe to eat.

Medium Rare 145 63
Medium 160 71
Well Done 170 77
Ground Beef 160 71
Medium Rare 145 63
Medium 160 71
Well Done 170 77
Medium Rare 145 63
Medium 160 71
Well Done 170 77
Deer 165 74
Rabbit 180 82
Duck 180 82
Goose 180 82
Ostrich 160 71
Rhea 160 71
Emu 160 71
Fried, Poached (Cook until yolk and white are firm)
Casseroles 160 71
Sauces, Custards 160 71
Chicken 180 82
Turkey 180 82
Turkey Roast (boneless) 170 77
Stuffing (inside or outside the bird) 165 74
Medium 160 71
Well Done 170 77
Ham, Fresh 160 71
Sausage, Fresh 160 71

Note: Home cooking temperatures are slightly higher than commercial cooking temperatures to provide a safety margin in case of variation in the accuracy of home thermometers and equipment.

Consumer guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Services, and from U.S. Food and Drug Administration.