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

Division of Environmental Health


Date Released: 11/18/2005
Subject: Food Safety Tips For Holiday Feasts
Contact: Brian Cox, Director, Environmental Health Division
Phone: (707) 445-6215

With the holiday season approaching, the Department of Health and Human Services, Environmental Health Division, 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.

Consumers don’t have to worry about catching avian flu when preparing and eating turkey and other domestic poultry during the holidays because there is no evidence of the presence of these viruses in the United States, and poultry is not imported from the affected countries. In addition, cooking poultry properly will kill any viruses and bacteria.

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, and after handling pets. Dry your hands with a clean, single-use paper towel. Persons with cuts or skin infections on their hands should not prepare food.

• 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 for other foods.

Keep foods separate. Don’t cross-contaminate:

• Always wash fruits and vegetables in clean sinks. Keep fruits and vegetables away from raw meats, poultry, eggs, fish, and any other raw animal product.

• 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 them when finished with prep work.

Refrigerate foods promptly:
• When grocery shopping, perishable items should be put in the cart last. Refrigerate or freeze turkey, other meats, and all perishables 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 degrees 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. Turkey should be placed immediately in a preheated oven set no lower than 325 degrees F. Turkey and other poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees F to kill pathogens that may be present, and the stuffing must reach 165 degrees F as well. 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 at least 145 degrees F, and ground meat (except ground poultry) should be cooked to at least 160 degrees F.

• When leftovers are eaten hot, they should be heated to at least 165 degrees 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 one of 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 refrigerated all cream, custard, and meringue pies, and any other foods with custard filling, 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 Federal Food and Drug Administration Food Information Hotline at (888) SAFE FOOD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline at (800) 535-4555 or Consumers can also access the National Partnership for Food Safety Education’s “Fight BAC” (bacteria), WEB page at


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