Holiday Food Safety Tips

Food Safety

by MIPC Staff

The holidays are right around the corner and food is always a major part of the festivities. However, food safety should be the most important ingredient in your holiday meals.

Handling and preparing food safely prevents food-borne illnesses, but according to NIH, 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from contaminated food each year. Common culprits include bacteria, parasites and viruses. Symptoms may include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

These symptoms can range from mild to serious. The treatment in most cases, is increasing your fluid intake. For more serious illness, you may need additional treatment.  When it doubt, you should always contact your physician, or nearest immediate care center, if you feel you may be suffering from food poisoning.

Food Safety Tips, a website dedicated to food safety information as provided by government agencies, recommends the following food handling and preparation tips to keep your food and health safe during the holidays:

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meats are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
    • For turkey: insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165°F. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing should also be 165°F.
    • For ham, insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. Once the temperature reaches 160°F, the ham is safe for consumption.
    • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
    • Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling any food.  
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, utensils, countertops) after preparing each food item.
  • Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat) and another one for those that will not (such as fruits and vegetables).
  • Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
  • Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that be refrigerated, including pie—within two hours.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature.
  • Cook food thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
  • Don’t taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.

Have More Food Safety Questions? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

Often times, food-borne illnesses are caused by improperly cooked and/or cross contaminations of meat or poultry. If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email questions to

The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.  You can also check out the FSIS Web site at