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Food Safety: Tips for Handling Your Holiday Meal Preparation

person with oven mitts putting tray with turkey and green beans in oven

The holidays are all about filling hearts—and tummies—with glee. This year, as we prepare to enjoy family feasts at home or volunteer our cooking efforts to help feed our friends and neighbors, there’s a heightened focus on food preparation safety. With cleanliness and sanitization efforts top of mind, we break down why food safety is important and the top five safety protocols to consider when preparing holiday meals. Read on as registered dietitian nutritionist, Katie McKee, shares her top food safety tips. 

Why is Food Safety Important?

According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), millions of Americans contract foodborne illnesses every year. However, most of these illnesses and health risks can be prevented by following proper food safety guidelines. Food safety refers to the correct handling of food during preparation, storage, and distribution. Safely handling food has countless benefits for people, including:

  • More sustainable food production 
  • Increased customer confidence
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Reduced income loss 
  • Decreased waste 

Whether you're cooking in your kitchen, at a restaurant, or somewhere else, we all have a role to play in handling food appropriately. Do your part to help protect everyone this holiday season and beyond. 

5 Expert Food Safety Tips

Practice food safety by following these expert food safety golden rules. 

1. Wash your hands.

Your hands can spread germs, so it’s important to wash them often when you prepare food, rubbing your hands together with soap under warm or cold water for at least 20 seconds. Thoroughly scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails, too. (Pro tip: Need a timer? Sing "Happy Birthday" twice.) Always air dry or use a clean towel to dry your hands, and use that towel to turn off the faucet. To help prevent cross-contamination, wash your hands before, during, and after preparing any food.

2. Rinse Your Produce.

woman washing head of broccoli under water in sink

Produce can be the culprit of foodborne illnesses and can become contaminated with bacteria during its farm to table transfer. The best way to clean produce is by rinsing it. Wash your hands first, then hold fruits and vegetables under plain running water and rub gently before eating, peeling, cutting, or cooking. There's no need to use a special wash or soap. Remember to wash your hands again after you're finished. 

3. Sanitize Kitchen Surfaces.

Handling food on unclean surfaces can affect your health. While cutting boards, kitchen utensils, and pots and pans should be properly washed, countertops must be sanitized, too. Don’t forget to wash your hands after cleaning these areas!

Not sure which countertops are right for you? Read our article, "Top 5 Considerations When Choosing Kitchen Countertops," to find the one that suits you best. 

4. Separate Your Foods.

Raw animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and seafood, can contain harmful pathogens. When grocery shopping and preparing foods, ensure that raw foods are stored away from ready-to-eat foods. Consider placing raw foods inside plastic bags in your shopping cart to keep the juices contained, and use separate cutting boards and utensils for produce and raw meats. 

5. Check Temperatures.

black woman using food thermometer to check temperature of turkey

Keep an eye on the temperature of hot and cold foods to confirm they’re safe to eat. Cold foods should always remain cold and hot foods should remain hot. Use a food thermometer when cooking to check the internal temperature of meat and poultry. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety guidelines suggest

  • Beefsteak, pork, and lamb need to roast to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ground beef should cook to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Poultry needs to heat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cold foods should be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a general rule, hot foods should remain at over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods are no longer safe to eat when they have been in the danger zone: 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours.

Safe Produce Storage Tips

When you use these food safety tips for the holidays, you're sure to have a splendid season with minimal hiccups. To get the most out of your meals and keep your produce fresher for longer, check out these fruit and veggie storage tips