UACES Facebook Ensure holiday happiness, keep your party food safe
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Ensure holiday happiness, keep your party food safe

LITTLE ROCK – It’s time to eat, drink and be merry, but a foodborne illness from holiday food could lead to misery.

“We all have different styles of prepping, cooking, transporting, serving and storing food,” said Serena Fuller, associate professor of nutrition and food safety in family and consumer sciences at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “It’s crucial to the health of your family and friends to make sure what you serve them is prepared correctly, cooked to the proper temperature, and served and stored in the correct conditions.

According to, a website based on federal food safety information, there are four steps to keeping food safe for consumption: clean, separate, cook and chill. Keeping these steps in mind will help cooks and consumers stay well.

Avoiding cross-contamination

First, wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water both before and after handling any food. Any surfaces that come in contact with food also should be washed using hot, soapy water. This includes counters, cutting boards, plates, bowls and utensils.

“When we get busy, we may not be conscious of all the places we transfer ingredients,” Fuller said. “If you take a few steps before you begin preparing your holiday dishes, you can minimize any cross-contamination. For instance, you don’t have to rinse raw meat or poultry before cooking it. This helps you avoid spreading any bacteria the meat or poultry may have to the sink or counter, which other foods may come in contact.”

A few additional steps can be used to limit the risk of spreading bacteria even more from meat and poultry. Keep meat, fish, poultry and raw eggs on a lower shelf and set in rimmed dishes in the refrigerator so they won’t come in contact with any other foods and ingredients. Use utensils and cutting boards just for raw meat, and another set just for raw vegetables and fruits, etc., to avoid any cross-contamination.

“Keep in mind, too, not to 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,” Fuller said. “Use a food thermometer to make sure what you’ve cooked is at a safe internal temperature when you serve it.”

Turkey is safe to eat when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165 degrees. Sauces, soups and gravies should also be brought to a rolling boil when reheating, and eggs should be cooked 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.

“Although it is tempting, also don't eat uncooked cookie dough because it may contain raw eggs,” Fuller said.

Storing food properly after it is served also is vital to avoiding foodborne illness. All leftovers and any ready-made food such as pie should be refrigerated within two hours after serving. Your refrigerator should be set at or below 40 degrees and the freezer at or below zero degrees. This will inhibit any bacterial growth.

“When it comes to holiday food or any food is if it looks or smells strange, don’t eat it,” Fuller said. “Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days after first being served. Just remember: when in doubt, throw it out.”

For more information about holiday food safety, visit extension's Web site,, or contact your county extension agent.   

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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By Kelli Reep
For the Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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