Susan Buckley, RN, Director, Public Health
Ira Singh, MPH, Deputy Director
Donald I. Baird, MD, Health Officer

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 11/24/2008
Contact: Steve Gustafson, Consumer Protection Program Manager, Environmental Health Division
Phone: (707) 445-6215

With the holiday season approaching, the Public Health Branch would like to remind consumers about the importance of safe food handling to prevent foodborne illness. By following simple easy-to-remember food safety tips, consumers can ensure that holiday feasts do not become a source of foodborne disease.

Here are some specific tips:

Keep hands and food contact surfaces clean. Wash them often.

• Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling raw foods, after using the toilet, after changing diapers, after handling pets, and routinely throughout the food preparation process. Dry the hands with a clean single-use paper towel. Persons with cuts or skin infections on their hands should not prepare food, unless gloves are worn.
• Thoroughly clean all work surfaces, utensils, and dishes with hot soapy water, and rinse with hot water before and after each use. Knives, cutting boards, and meat grinders should be washed thoroughly (in the dishwasher, for example) before using them with other foods.

Keep foods separated. Don’t cross-contaminate.

• Always wash fruits and vegetables in pre-cleaned sinks. Keep fruits and vegetables away from raw meats, poultry, eggs, fish, and any other raw animal product. Keep raw animal products separate from each other.
• When tasting food, ladle a small amount of it into a small dish and taste with a clean spoon. Remove the dish and spoon from the area and clean when finished.
Refrigerate foods promptly.
• Refrigerate or freeze turkey and other meats promptly after purchase. Prevent meat juices from spilling on and contaminating other foods or surfaces both at the market and at home. Refrigeration temperature should be kept at 41 °F or colder.
• Thaw a frozen turkey inside the refrigerator in its original wrapping. Thawing a moderate-sized turkey in this manner may take two to four days. If time does not permit a gradual thaw, place the frozen turkey in a watertight wrapper and immerse in cold—not hot or warm—water until the meat is pliable. Change the water every half-hour.

Cook foods to proper temperatures.

• Rinse the turkey thoroughly in cold water and drain well before cooking.
• Stuffing should be cooked separately. If it contains fish, meat, or poultry, cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F for at least 15 seconds.
• Turkey should be placed immediately in a preheated oven set no lower than 325 °F. Turkey and other poultry should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F for at least 15 seconds to kill pathogens that may be present. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure meat is thoroughly cooked. To accurately measure the temperature, insert a thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey thigh, but not against the bone. Turkey meat is thoroughly cooked when the hip joint moves easily and the juices run clear, not pink.
• Steaks and roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F, and ground meat (except ground poultry) should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 157 °F, or 155 °F for 15 seconds.
• When leftovers are eaten hot, they should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F, until hot and steaming throughout. Foods cooked or reheated in microwaves should be stirred or turned occasionally to ensure all parts of the food are thoroughly cooked. If using frozen meat, first microwave the meat until completely thawed, then follow with cooking. If microwaving is not possible, allow at least one-and-a-half times the usual cooking time to ensure the meat is sufficiently cooked throughout.

Refrigerate leftovers.

• Turkey should be refrigerated in one of the following two ways: (1) Within two hours after it is cooked; OR (2) The turkey should be de-boned, sliced, or pulled into pieces no more than 2˝ inches thick, immediately after cooking, and refrigerated in shallow containers. Store the meat, stuffing, and stock in separate containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
• Do not eat leftover meat that has been refrigerated for longer than four days or eat leftover stuffing or gravy that has been refrigerated for longer than two days. If properly wrapped, leftover meat may be safely consumed after being frozen for one to three months.
• Keep all cream, custard, and meringue pies, and any other foods with custard filling, refrigerated at 41 °F, except when being served.

These food safety tips should be followed every day of the year; not just during the holiday season.

Resources for information on food safety include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety at (800) 332-4010 and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline at (800) 535-4555. Consumers can also access the National Partnership for Food Safety Education’s “Fight BAC” (bacteria) Web page at


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