The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes food, food and more food. The hustle and bustle of multiple cooks, various meals and the constant flow of people in and out of the kitchen creates a chaotic environment and an increased risk of foodborne illnesses. 

Here are some food safety guidelines that will keep you off Santa’s food safety naughty list and ensure a safe and enjoyable Christmas.

Tips to avoid coal in your stocking:

Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill

“Clean, separate, cook and chill” – these four simple rules are your keys to a safe and merry Christmas. You can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria with regular handwashing and cleaning of kitchen surfaces during cooking. Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meats separate from other foods, and ensure that meat, poultry, fish and egg products are cooked to the correct internal temperature. Lastly, prompt refrigeration of food is essential to inhibit bacterial growth.

Cooking your main dish wisely

Ham cooking safety tips from the USDA:

  • Cooked, vacuum-packaged hams from federally inspected plants can be eaten cold, but if reheating, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F.
  • Unpackaged, cooked ham must be reheated to 165°F to eliminate potential pathogens.
  • Spiral-cut cooked hams are safe to eat cold if held at proper temperatures. When reheating, follow specific guidelines to prevent dryness.

Turkey cooking safety tips from the USDA:

  • Thaw the turkey safely using approved methods such as in the refrigerator or cold water.
  • Cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F, measured in the thickest part of the thigh.
  • Avoid basting tools as potential sources of bacterial contamination.
  • Never cook a turkey overnight at low temperatures, as it promotes harmful bacteria growth.

Holiday specials safety: Eggnog and unconventional dishes

  • If your eggnog is egg-based make sure to cook the base to a minimum safe temperature of 160 degrees F.  Adding alcohol alone does not make eggnog safe for consumption. 
  • “Tiger meat” or “cannibal sandwiches” are a winter holiday dish common in the upper Midwest and other parts of the country. It contains raw ground meat, usually beef, seasoned with spices and onion and sometimes raw eggs, and served on bread or a cracker. Hundreds are sickened every year from eating this dish. Never eat raw meat. Both ground beef and raw eggs pose health hazards when eaten undercooked or raw. A safe alternative is to mix ground beef with spices and onion and cook it to a safe 160 degrees F.
  • When baking this holiday season do not eat raw dough if it contains eggs or unbaked flour.

Staying off Santa’s food safety naughty list requires diligence and adherence to these guidelines. Whether your holiday table features ham, turkey or unique specials, prioritizing cleanliness, separation, proper cooking and refrigeration will ensure a safe and joyful Christmas celebration for you and your loved ones.

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