The holidays often mean family, fun, and food. But beware – bacteria can lurk in holiday buffet goodies and cause foodborne illness. Follow these guidelines for group platters to protect your guests from harmful foodborne bacteria.
Keep HOT foods HOT and COLD foods COLD.
Bacteria can double every 20 minutes in food at room temperature. It’s important to keep hot foods at 140 °F with slow cookers or chafing dishes. Keep cold foods at 40 °F or colder by putting them in dishes nested in ice.
Remember the two-hour rule.
Don’t leave perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours, or bacteria can start to grow. If you’ve lost track of time and can’t remember how long that macaroni salad has been on the buffet, remember: when in doubt, throw it out! Your guests will appreciate it.
Learn the Dos & Don’ts for your holiday favorites.
Now that you have a couple of key guidelines to help keep your holiday buffet safe, here are some common dishes that might make an appearance on your party table and tips for how to keep them safe from uninvited guests.
It’s delicious, it’s creamy, and it can contain Salmonella if raw or undercooked eggs are part of the ingredient list. If you’re making eggnog from scratch, follow these steps for “eggstra” safe ‘nog.
- Do: Use only pasteurized eggs or egg products in the egg base.
Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria.
- Do: Heat the egg base to 160°F to kill all bacteria.
To keep the eggs runny (and delicious), add milk or sugar to the base. Check out the Holiday Eggnog recipe from USDA for easy and safe eggnog instructions.
- Don’t: Rely on alcohol to kill bacteria.
Adding rum or other alcohol to your eggnog may not kill all the harmful bacteria. That’s why using pasteurized eggs and heating the egg base are so important.
From glazed ham to ham salad, this meat can appear on the buffet table in many forms. It’s also a common culprit of foodborne illness. Here are a few tips to keep your ham and ham dishes safe.
- Do: Pay attention to the label.
Some hams are ready to eat and others must be cooked first. Hams that must be cooked have cooking instructions on the label.
- Do: Store your ham in the refrigerator.
Use ham slices within four days and whole ham within a week.
- Do: Cook your ham to a safe temperature.
Take a look at our Ham Cooking Chart to find out how to cook your ham based on its cut and weight.
Deli meats, or cold cuts, are a popular staple on holiday buffets. But deli meats can harbor Listeria, bacteria that can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn babies.
- Do: Avoid deli meats if you’re pregnant.
If you absolutely must have deli meats, heat them until they are steaming hot.
- Do: Store deli meats in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat them.
Use deli-sliced meats within three to five days of buying them, even if the best-before date is later.
- Do Keep fluid from deli meat packages away from other foods, utensils, or food prep surfaces.
Foodsafety.gov wishes you and your family a safe and happy holiday season. For more information on Holiday Food Safety, view our Holiday General Information page.
If you have any other questions about buffets, group platters, or food safety in general contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish)
Holiday dinners are a time to enjoy friends, family and good food. And while leftovers can make quick and tasty meals, it’s important to remember to refrigerate them promptly and reheat properly. You can help keep your family safe from food poisoning at home by following these guidelines from the USDA.
Promptly refrigerate or freeze perishable leftovers
Did you know that illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them? (And if the temperature is 90 ˚F or higher, cut that time down to one hour.) Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
Know when to throw food out
You can’t tell just by looking or smelling whether harmful bacteria has started growing in your leftovers or refrigerated foods. Here are a few steps you can take to store and reheat your leftovers safely:
- Place leftovers in shallow containers. Refrigerate (40 °F or below) or freeze the cooked poultry and stuffing within two hours after cooking.
- Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days; frozen food within four months.
- Find out how long to store leftovers by checking out this Safe Storage Times chart.
Reheat leftovers thoroughly
When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F. Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food.
- Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.
- Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.
- Thaw frozen leftovers safely in the refrigerator or the microwave oven. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- In a real hurry? It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing, either in a saucepan or microwave (in the case of a soup or stew) or in the oven or microwave (for example, casseroles and combination meals). Reheating will take longer than if the food is thawed first, but it is safe to do when time is short.
Foodsafety.gov wishes you and your family a safe and happy holiday season. For more information on Holiday Food Safety, view Holiday General Information.
If you have any other questions about leftovers or food safety in general contact us at the Hotline (1-888-674-6854 toll-free) or online at AskKaren.gov (PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish)
Let’s face it, in November, a turkey will most likely find its way onto your menu. Planning ahead can help ensure that your special meal is successful, safe, and stress-free. If you have questions, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline offers planning tips and shares their top turkey questions and answers.
- Make a guest list: Decide how many people will be eating, plan your menu, and gather your recipes.
- Clear the fridge: Start using foods that are taking up space in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey, ham, or roast and other dishes.
- Start shopping: Check your pantry to see what you already have and make a shopping list of needed ingredients. Shopping early for pantry items will reduce stress later.
- Get the thermometers ready: Buy a food thermometer if you don't already have one. A cooked whole turkey is safe at a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird and stuffing. If you're thawing the turkey in the refrigerator, we also recommend using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure the temperature is 40 °F or lower.
Read our Top Turkey Questions
(Answered by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline)
- I have a turkey in the freezer from last year. Can I still use it?
Yes, go ahead and use it! Food poisoning bacteria cannot grow in the freezer, so your frozen turkey will be safe to eat. A turkey will keep its top quality a full year in the freezer.
- What size turkey should I buy?
Estimate one pound of turkey for each person. That’s enough for ample portions and leftovers. If you’re having a large party, don’t worry: larger turkeys (over 16 pounds) have more meat per pound. A larger turkey will feed two people per pound.
- How far in advance can I buy a fresh turkey?
If you want to buy a fresh turkey, wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Some grocery stores will let you reserve a fresh turkey.
- How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey?
The safest way to thaw a turkey is to put it in the refrigerator at a safe temperature (40 °F) during thawing. Allow one day for each five lbs. of weight to thaw the turkey. A 20- pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. After it has thawed, it is safe for another two days.
If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey call, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov available in English or Spanish. PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish)
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