Holiday Food Safety, Planning to Leftovers

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
family cooking christmas dinner

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Download: Kitchen Safety Checklist for a healthy feast.

Food is as much a part of holiday gatherings as football, candles and carols. This holiday season, keep food safety in mind every step of the way, including proper planning, safe shopping, working in the kitchen and wrapping up leftovers.

Proper Planning

Make sure your kitchen is equipped with what you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for storage, paper towels and soap. Store foods in the refrigerator at 40°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.

Safe Shopping

It's important to keep food safety in mind as you shop. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don't purchase bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the grocery store. Remember to always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours.

Working in the Kitchen

In a holiday kitchen filled with family and friends, all hands may be on deck, but are those hands clean? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.

And when baking delicious holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Have children take the Cookie Rookie Pledge before they assist in the kitchen.

Wrapping Up Leftovers

As you eat and visit with family and friends, keep in mind how long the food on the buffet table has been sitting out unrefrigerated. Remember that you can't tell if a food is unsafe by taste, smell or appearance alone.

Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with an expiration date. Check our Keep It Cool: Food Storage Chart or Is My Food Safe? app to determine how long to keep leftovers. Reheat leftovers to 165°F, and do not eat expired foods as this could lead to food poisoning.

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