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Make sure your holiday food is safe to eat

Refrigerate leftovers as soon as the meal is over. They should be thrown away if they have been left out more than two hours.
The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are wonderful times for families and friends to gather and enjoy great food. All this great food being prepared or transported to family gatherings and events makes food safety extremely important at this time of year. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sums up the key food safety messages this way:

  • Clean: Wash your hands and any surfaces that touch food thoroughly and often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen quickly and easily get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops.

  • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Avoid spreading bacteria from one food product to another. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods or foods that do not require further cooking or heating.

  • Cook: Prepare foods as written on the package directions. Hot foods should be reheated to 165º or higher for at least 15 seconds to kill the bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to check temperatures often.

  • Chill: Refrigerate food as quickly as possible. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check the accuracy of the settings occasionally with a thermometer.

Another important consideration should be how to prepare special holiday dishes. Raw eggs may contain the salmonella bacteria that can cause an intestinal infection. Drinking traditional eggnog, eating cookie dough or eating any batters made with raw eggs may be dangerous and could cause illness. One safe alternative to using raw eggs is to use pasteurized egg products in baked dishes or dishes that do not require further cooking. “Pasteurized” means that the product was heated to a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria present. Pasteurized eggnog beverages sold in grocery dairy cases are also a safe alternative.

The holidays are a hectic time and food safety may not be one’s first thought while preparing a large family feast so here are some important reminders:

  1. Make sure there is room to keep all of your cold foods cold (40°F or lower);
  2. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as the meal is over. They should be thrown away if they have been left out over two hours;
  3. Reheat any leftovers to 165°F before eating; and
  4. Follow all package directions for preparation and storage of any mail order or homemade foods.

Don’t let a foodborne illness ruin your holiday plans. Keep your food safe by being careful with your food preparation, food storage and reheating of leftovers.

For more information and updates, contact Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health at (336) 641-7777.