Hosting a Safe Holiday Dinner

Family dinners and parties where food is served are a big part of the holiday season. The following tips will help keep foodborne illness from becoming an uninvited guest at your next holiday gathering.

Shop Safely

When purchasing food for your holiday dinner, buy nonperishable items first and shop for cold and ready-to-eat foods right before heading for the checkout. Avoid buying foods past the expiration date or where the packaging has been damaged. If ordering food for delivery, make sure someone is home to receive the food and that it is delivered cold.

Thaw Frozen Items Properly

Frozen foods should never be thawed at room temperature. Wrapped frozen items can be thawed safely in the refrigerator or in cold water. You can also use a microwave if you plan to finish cooking the food right away. Many frozen foods can be cooked from the frozen state, although additional cooking time is needed.

Avoid Cross Contamination

Never use the same utensils or cutting boards for both raw and ready-to-eat foods unless they are thoroughly washed with hot soapy water between each use.

Wash Hands Often

To limit cross contamination and reduce the spread of illness, wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, especially before handling any ready-to-eat foods as well after touching any raw or uncooked foods.

Disinfect Countertops and Sinks

In addition to washing utensils and other food preparation equipment between each use, regularly wash and sanitize your countertop surfaces as well as the kitchen sink.

Keep Hot Foods Hot, Cold Foods Cold

Perishable foods need to be kept out of the danger zone between 40º and 140º F. Cold foods should be kept refrigerated until just before serving, while hot foods should be kept in the oven or on a warmer until ready to eat.

Remember the Two-Hour Rule

Never let perishable foods sit out at room temperature for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature exceeds 90º F).

What to Do if Guests Are Delayed

Hot foods can usually be held safely in the oven for up to an hour. Adjust the oven temperature so that the food stays at 140° F, and cover dishes to keep foods from drying out. For longer delays, it’s best to place cooked foods in shallow containers and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Once your guests arrive, reheat hot foods to an internal temperature of at least 165° F. Cold foods should be kept in the refrigerator until dinner is ready to be served.

Store Leftovers Safely

For quicker cooling, separate large quantities of leftovers into smaller containers and place in the refrigerator. If you are unable to eat refrigerated leftovers within three to four days, they should be frozen or discarded.