USDA Holiday food safety tips

As families gather together for the holidays, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is reminding cooks across the country about the key steps for food safety to prevent foodborne illness.

Foodborne illness kills 3,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC, and holiday gatherings – where large dishes like turkeys and roasts are prepared, and communal dishes are often left out for long periods of time – can offer the ideal conditions for the bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Here are the USDA’s top tips to ensure a food safe meal throughout the holidays:

Wash your hands: Handwashing reduces the risk of all illness – including foodborne illness – and is especially important after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and egg products. In a recent USDA study, participants shockingly failed to wash their hands sufficiently nearly 100 percent of the time.

Prevent cross-contamination: When shopping keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood in separate plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods and always remember to use a separate cutting board for fresh fruits and vegetables and for raw meats, raw poultry and raw seafood. Turkeys, hams and other roasts should not be washed prior to cooking. Our recent study found that a quarter of side dishes were contaminated with germs from chicken after individuals washed or rinsed raw poultry; so after handling your turkey, ham or other roasts, be sure to fully clean and sanitize your hands, your sink and other surfaces they many have come in contact with before prepping any other holiday sides and dishes.

Use a food thermometer: The only way to kill bacteria is to fully cook dishes with raw meat, poultry, or egg products. For poultry that means 165°F, and roasts should be cooked to 145°F with a three minute rest time.

Practice safe food storage and follow the two-hour rule: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep food hot (at 140°F or above) in a slow cooker or chafing dish and keep cold foods cold (at 40°F or below) by placing salads and dips in a tray of ice. Perishable foods are only safe out on the table or buffet for two hours. Make sure all leftovers are placed in the refrigerator within two hours to safely enjoy them later.

For more safety information, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (1-888-674-6854) Monday through Friday, from 10am to 6pm ET. You can also visit and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Happy holidays!

All content is provided by USDA.

Sponsored Content
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at