By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
The holiday season is a time for celebration and great food. Don’t let merriment change to misery because food makes you or others ill.
Don’t give the gift of food poisoning; Keep things clean
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food.
- Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water before and after preparing each food item.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.
Separate to Avoid Cross-Contamination
- Whether shopping in the store, storing food in the refrigerator at home, or while preparing meals, keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked.
- Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked, such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and another one for those that will not be cooked, such as raw fruits and vegetables.
- Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
- Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
Cook to a Safe Internal Temperature
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should also be 165ºF.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
- Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
Chill Because Harmful Bacteria Grow Rapidly At Room Temperature
- Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated, including pie—within two hours.
- Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
- Thaw safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature. Cook food that has been thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
- Allow enough time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.
- Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
- Leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.
For more information on Holiday Food Safety:
- View Holidays General Information
- Contact us at the Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free)
- Contact us online at AskKaren.gov
By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Mail-order foods have been around for awhile and now ordering online makes it easy to send or receive a tasty gift. Perhaps you placed an order for a gift of food for yourself or a family member or plan to send a gift of food. Either way, make sure it’s handled safely so you keep your family food safe.
A safety Checklist for Mail-Order Foods
- Make sure the company sends perishable items, like meat or poultry, cold or frozen and packed with a cold source. It should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard.
- The food should be delivered as quickly as possible — ideally, overnight. Make sure perishable items and the outer package are labeled "Keep Refrigerated" to alert the recipient.
- When you receive a food item marked "Keep Refrigerated," open it immediately and check its temperature. The food should arrive frozen or partially frozen with ice crystals still visible or at least refrigerator cold—below 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Even if a product is smoked, cured, vacuum-packed, and/or fully cooked, it still is a perishable product and must be kept cold. If perishable food arrives warm — above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer — notify the company. Do not consume the food. Do not even taste it.
- Alert the recipient that "the gift is in the mail" so someone can be there to receive it. Don't have perishable items delivered to an office unless you know it will arrive on a work day and there is refrigerator space available for keeping it cold.
A Safety Checklist for Perishable Foods Prepared at Home and Mailed
- Ship in a sturdy box.
- Pack with a cold source, i.e., frozen gel packs or dry ice.
- When using dry ice:
- Don't touch the dry ice with bare hands.
- Don't let it come in direct contact with food.
- Warn the recipient of its use by writing "Contains Dry Ice" on the outside of the box.
- Wrap box in two layers of brown paper.
- Use permanent markers to label outside of the box. Use recommended packing tape.
- Label outside clearly; make sure address is complete and correct.
- Write "Keep Refrigerated" on outside of the box.
- Alert recipient of its expected arrival.
- Do not send to business addresses or where there will not be adequate refrigerator storage.
- Do not send packages at the end of the week. Send them at the beginning of the week so they do not sit in the post office or mailing facility over the weekend.
- Whenever possible, send foods that do not require refrigeration, e.g., hard salami, hard cheese, country ham.
For more information including a diagram of how to pack a perishable food items visit our fact sheet Mail-Order Food Safety.
Have a safe and happy holiday!
If you have any questions about turkeys and Thanksgiving, feel free to contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov.
by Dr. Michelle Annette Smith, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Food Safety, Produce Safety Staff, FDA
Pre-cut, bagged, pre-washed produce has increased in popularity over the last few years. The convenience of ready-to-eat bagged produce has allowed consumers with hectic lifestyles to add healthy leafy greens, fruits, and other vegetables to their diet easily. Recent recalls of ready-to-eat bagged produce have raised questions on how to handle it safely at home.
Tips for handling ready-to-eat produce safely
While we recommend that you wash intact produce, such as apples, head lettuce, and whole carrots before preparation and consumption, many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items like mixed salad greens are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. It is unlikely that consumer washing of such products will make the product cleaner compared to a commercial triple wash. It is possible that the additional handling may contaminate a product that was clean. If you’re not sure if your packaged produce is ready-to-eat, look at the label. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed and are ready-to-eat, you can use the product without further washing.
If you choose to wash a product marked “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat,” be sure to use safe-handling practices to avoid any cross contamination.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after handling the product.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, salad spinners, utensils, and countertops with hot water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and preparation of produce that will not be cooked.
Additional Produce Tips
- Choose only ready-to-eat produce that is refrigerated or surrounded by ice before buying
- Refrigerate all pre-cut, ready-to-eat produce promptly
- Make sure that produce, including ready-to-eat produce, is not bruised or damaged
- Separate ready-to-eat produce from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your refrigerator
- Never use detergent or bleach to wash produce. These products are not intended for consumption.
- Throw away ready-to-eat produce that has touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
- Return any uneaten ready-to-eat produce to the refrigerator or discard
Safe Handling of Raw Produce and Fresh-Squeezed Fruit and Vegetable Juices