Food safety tips for the holidays


Gathering and sharing food with friends and family is often a treasured part of holiday celebrations. However, foodborne illness can show up as an unwanted guest at the table. These illnesses can occur when foods are not cooked or handled properly.

Some common food safety mistakes during food preparation include:

  • Not washing hands correctly
  • Cross-contaminating containers while cooking
  • Not cooking raw meat to a safe internal temperature even when using a food thermometer

Fortunately, there are easy measures you can adopt to protect you and your guests from foodborne illness.

Follow these steps to help you safely prepare and serve your next holiday meal.

food safety tips


  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating.
  • Clean kitchen work surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water or in a dishwasher before and after you cook.


Choose one of the following options to thaw frozen foods (e.g., raw meats/ fish, frozen soups or casseroles) safely.thermometer shows temperature danger zone

  • In the refrigerator inside a container to prevent any juices from leaking on other foods; or
  • Under cold running water or in a leak-proof plastic bag that’s submerged in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes); or
  • In the microwave following the manufacturer’s instructions and only if in a small amount and if the food will be cooked immediately after defrosting.

Never thaw food by leaving it out at room temperatureWhen temperature-sensitive food (e.g., thawing meat) is left out at room temperature the outside of the food will thaw faster than the center. Bacteria can grow rapidly in foods within the “temperature danger zone” between 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit (F).

Thawed food should be immediately cooked or stored in the refrigerator.


Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from cooked or fresh ready to eat food.

Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw animal meat/products and wash these surfaces/utensils in hot, soapy water before using them to prepare the next food. Organize your prep to work with fresh produce before raw animal meat/products if possible.

Complete all food prep within 2 hours, and as a best practice as quickly as possible.turkey preparation poster

Handle your turkey correctly. Handling poultry incorrectly and undercooking it are common problems that lead to foodborne illness. Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria and poultry juices can easily spread and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops. Do not wash or rinse raw turkey or chicken.


You can’t tell when a food is “done” cooking by looking at it. Use a food thermometer and cook to a safe minimum internal temperatures to kill bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.  

Cook all poultry, stuffed foods and casseroles to at least 165 degrees F. Promptly serve cooked foods.

Cooked and cooled foods must also be reheated to at least 165 degrees F to safely cooking temperatures poster

  • TurkeyPreheat your oven to at least 325 degrees F. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F by inserting it into the thickest parts of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.
  • Stuffing It is safer to cook stuffing separately. If you can’t cook stuffing separately, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey meat and the stuffing’s center reaches a minimum of 165 degrees F internal temperature. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing; this allows it to cook a little more.

Keep foods at safe temperatures during transport and service. Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and preheated cambros to keep hot foods hot. Use coolers with ice packs and serving dishes in ice to keep cold foods cold. 


Keep leftovers safe. Cooked foods like gravies, roast meats and poultry, casseroles, soups and sauces left too long at room temperature (or in the “temperature danger zone”) and improperly reheated can easily grow bacteria. This type of foodborne illness commonly happens around the holidays.Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Refrigerate or freeze perishable, temperature-sensitive food within 2 hours (1 hour if ambient temperature is above 90 degrees F) or discard it. Break down large dishes into shallow, smaller portioned containers to get all parts of refrigerated foods to safe cold holding temperatures quickly. 

Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F before serving

Freeze or discard refrigerated leftovers that can’t be eaten within 4 days.

More information

Food Safety Tips for your Holidays

 Let’s Talk Turkey – A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting Turkey

Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table (e.g., Grilling, Frying)

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.