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Spread joy, not illness, this holiday season

This holiday season when you gather with family, friends and lots of food, your good cheer could quickly change to misery if the food you plan to share makes you or your guests ill.  

In healthy people, foodborne illness can be nasty but short-lived, most of the time going away without the need to see a doctor. But for some groups of people, the symptoms—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills and body aches—that come from a foodborne illness can be serious. Older adults, infants and young children, women who are pregnant, and people with a weakened immune system are at most risk for foodborne illness.

To keep the joy in your holiday gatherings, follow these safe food-handling practices:


  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cold running water, using a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Do not rinse raw meat or poultry before cooking.


  • Prevent cross-contamination: Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from other ingredients or uncooked foods.
  • Use only one cutting board for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meats) and another for foods that will not be cooked (such as fruits and vegetables).
  • Be sure serving platters, bowls and dishes are clean.


  • Color is not a reliable indicator of whether food is thoroughly cooked. Use a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. For turkey that's the inner thigh and wing, or the thickest part of the breast. The temperature should read at least 165°F.
  • Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • When making eggnog or other recipes calling for raw eggs, use liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, powdered egg whites or pasteurized shell eggs.
  • Do not eat raw cookie dough or cake batters that may contain raw eggs.


  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. This includes pumpkin pie!
  • Check that your refrigerator temperature is below 40°F and your freezer temp is at least 0°F.
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Allow plenty of time to defrost in the refrigerator (about four to five days for a 20-pound turkey). If you thaw food using cold running water or the microwave, start cooking the food as soon as it is thawed.
  • Use the rule "When in doubt, throw it out." If a food smells or looks questionable do not taste it, just toss it.
  • Leftovers should be safe to eat for three to four days, then, no matter how tasty, toss it out.

Use care with stuffing

  • Cook stuffing in a baking dish to be sure it's safe.
  • If you do want to stuff your bird, keep wet and dry ingredients separate until you mix it. And prepare your stuffing just before putting it in the oven. Loosely stuff the bird with about ¾ cup per pound of turkey. Extra can be cooked in a baking dish. Stuffing should also be cooked to a temperature of 165°F.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers more information on stuffing safety at its Turkey Basics web page.

Check out these free food safety resources:


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