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Staying food safe during the holidays

Holidays bring an abundance of cooking and leftover food. Safe food preparation and storage is an important part of holiday safety.

During the winter months, farming and gardening slows down – but it does not mean we are not still eating the foods we have worked hard for all year long, canned, frozen or are stored for the cold winter months. During the holidays it can become more challenging due to extra food preparation, meal planning, as well as serving and storing foods in higher quantity. Here are a few tips to make food safety a sure thing during the holiday season.

Make sure you are washing your hands, utensils, countertops and cuttings boards with hot, soapy water! Wash hands for 20-seconds. Serve all your prepared food on clean platters, avoid using plates that may have come in contact with raw meat or poultry. Be careful to separate raw and cooked foods so you do not accidentally cross contaminate. Change up your knife if you were cutting raw meat, and then needing to chop vegetables. Cook your meats thoroughly and use a food thermometer to make sure foods are reaching their safe minimal internal temperatures.

When you go to store your prepared foods, think about keeping food at the proper temperatures. Clean out your fridge to have proper space for items needed or work with family and friends to spread food to where it can be properly stored until the event.

If you have leftovers, consider placing them in the freezer to keep the fridge available for immediate needs. Freezing leftovers can be a great way to store food for later consumption. If you need to just keep something hot or cold temporarily – consider using insulated containers. These can help keep heat in (140o or above), or add a few ice packs and keep things at a nice chilly temperature (40o or below). Use a thermometer to be sure your food is being properly stored.

As you serve, keep in mind dishes that include cream pies, creamed vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood or dishes with eggs or dairy do not need to sit at room temperature for longer than two hours. This can cause harmful bacteria to begin to grow.

The USDA recommends using a FoodKeeper app to have a handy go-to guide for safe food storage and preparation. There is also additional information on the USDA website or the FoodSafety website at For additional questions or for more information, feel free to contact your local UT/TSU Extension Agent.

Source: USDA and .