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Food Safety for Holidays, Parties & Groups

Created November 12, 2021 with a focus is on (Thanksgiving) Turkey and other aspects of food safety for entertaining and the upcoming holidays.

This page was inspired by and modeled after the Food Safety by Events and Seasons (FoodSafety.gov) webpage. It is divided into sections, headed by a colorful FoodSafety.gov infographic and its brief introductory paragraph, followed by resources for more information. Each infographics is loaded with tips to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. This page transcribes the infographic advice and may add material from other resources.

Watch a Holiday Food Safety (FDA.gov) youtube video to get a quick refresher on food safety basics (CLEAN - SEPARATE - COOK - CHILL):

and/or visit our Everyday Food Safety page.

This page is limited in scope to food safety for hosting or attending a holiday event or other special get-together with sections on:

It concludes with where to get more help with unanswered questions.

Let's Talk Turkey

Infographic, "Let's Talk Turkey" and opening paragraphs from Thanksgiving Food Safety (FoodSafety.gov)

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
The Thanksgiving meal is the largest that many cooks prepare each year. The following information may help you prepare your special Thanksgiving meal and help you countdown to the holiday.

From "Let's Talk Turkey" Infographic +

Unsafe handling and under-cooking your holiday bird can cause foodborne illnesses. Here are a few tips from the USDA to keep your Thanksgiving safe and delicious!

  • Types of Turkeys Regulated by the USDA 1
    • Raising and Processing Labels: Natural, Kosher, Free-range, Organic
    • Temperature Labels: Fresh, Frozen
  • 3 Ways to Safely Thaw Your Bird 2,+
    While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. As soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing will begin to grow again.
    • Refrigerator (USDA recommended thawing method):
      Safe to store the turkey for another 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
      How to thaw: Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of bird.
    • Cold Water:
      Cook immediately after thawing.
      How to thaw: Submerge the bird in cold water and change every 30 minutes.
    • Microwave:
      Cook immediately after thawing.
      How to thaw: Use defrost function based on weight.
  • Did you know?
    It's safe to cook a frozen turkey, though cooking time will be 50% longer!
    • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
    • Utensils, plates, countertops and cutting boards would also be washed.
    • Bacteria, which can be present inside and outside a turkey, can't be washed off the bird! Cooking is the only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacteria. So Don't Wash Your Turkey!! ++
    • Separate raw turkey from fresh food, and use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils.
    • Keep dishes that touch raw food separate too!
    • Wash items that touch raw meat with soap and warm water.
  • COOK
    • Your bird is not safe until it reaches 165ºF - you cannot tell by the color.
    • Remember to ensure any stuffing cooked with the bird reaches 165º too!
    • Use three places to check the temperature:
      • Thickest part of Breast
      • Innermost part of Wing
      • Innermost part of Thigh
    • When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to settle.
    Take your time around the dinner table, but refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours!
    • Safe in the fridge for 3-4 days
    • Safe frozen, but use within 2-6 months for best quality.
    • Leftover turkey should be cut into smaller pieces. Store items separately in small containers.
    • Be sure to pack leftovers in a cooler, if traveling.
    • Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165ºF.

1 Label definitions in Turkey Tips Step 1: Shopping for your Feast (USDA.gov); more at Meat & Poultry Labeling Terms (FSIS.USDA.gov)

Only 3 Ways Recommended
Only 3 Ways Recommended
2 More details in Thawing Your Turkey section of Let's Talk Turkey - A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey (FSIS.USDA.gov) and How to Safely Thaw a Turkey (USDA.gov)

Excerpt from How to Safely Thaw a Turkey (USDA.gov):

  • In case you are wondering, here are some thawing methods that are not recommended:
    • thawing a turkey on the counter, in the garage or on the back porch
    • thawing a turkey in a brown paper grocery bag or plastic garbage bag
    • using the dishwasher to thaw a turkey (with or without water)
    • any method that is not the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave

++ Excerpts from Countdown to a Food-Safe Thanksgiving Day - FAQ (USDA.gov):

  • The turkey  ... must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

  • Washing or rinsing any meat or poultry is not recommended, and actually increases the risk you will cross-contaminate germs to other foods you’re preparing. But if you do choose to wash your turkey, you need to fully clean and sanitize your sink. Cleaning and sanitizing is a two-step process. To clean, rub down surfaces including the sink, cutting boards, and counter tops with soap and hot water and then sanitize them with a cleaning solution to remove any residual germs you cannot see. You can use a homemade solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. Let air dry.
  • USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey for food safety reasons. When stuffed, it takes a longer time to cook the turkey, and you must make sure the innermost part of the stuffing has also reached 165ºF. This can be challenging with large birds.

More about Stuffing at Stuffing and Food Safety (FSIS.USDA).

Printable Brochure
Additional Resources (not hot-linked above)

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Your Map to a Food-Safe Holiday

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Click to enlarge.
No matter what's on your menu, food is always a central part of holiday festivities. Whether you're an experienced cook, a first-time party host, or bringing a dish to a potluck dinner check out these resources for ensuring that holiday buffets and mail-order food are free from the germs that cause foodborne illness.

From "Your Map to a Food-Safe Holiday" Infographic

Follow some simple food safety advice to keep you and your guest feeling festive this winter.

  • Proper Prepping 
    Just as you have a procedure for storing your holiday gifts when you get home, you should have a system for storing your food.
    • Make sure you fridge is set at or below 40ºF.
    • Chill perishable groceries within 2 hours of shopping
    • Store raw meats in a container or dish to prevent juices from leaking, and set below ready-to-eat foods.
    • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
    • Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-t-eat foods and dishes.
    • Don't forget: You need two thermometers. One for the fridge to ensure food is stored at 40ºF; one for food, particularly meat to ensure it's cooked to the right temperature.
  • Welcome to Roastville 1
    Always use a food thermometer to check that different holiday meats have been cooked to the right internal temperature.
    • Ground Beef 160ºF
    • Duck 165ºF
    • Turkey 165ºF
    • Goose 165ºF
    • Veal 145ºF and rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming
    • Pork 145ºF and rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming
    • Lamb 145ºF and rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming
    • Steak 145ºF and rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming
  • Hitting the Road
    If you're bringing a dish to a get-together with coworkers, family or friends this holiday season, make sure you are transporting food safely.
    • Keep Cold Food Cold when transporting cold dishes, place items in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep food at or below 40ºF
    • Keep Hot Food Hot. Keep hot foods at or above 140ºF by wrapping dishes in insulation bags or towels and newspaper.
  • Danger Zone - Do Not Enter
    • Perishable food kept in the Danger Zone (between 40ºF 140ºF) for longer than 2 hours should be thrown out.
    • Exceptions to Danger Zone include ready-to-eat items like cookies, crackers, bread, whole fruit.

1 More in Meat and Poultry Roasting Charts (FoodSafety.gov)

Excerpts from Food Safety for the Holidays (CDC.gov)
(Full page available in Spanish Consejos sobre la seguridad de los alimentos para las fiestas) 

  • Use pasteurized eggs for dishes containing raw eggs.
    • Salmonella and other harmful germs can live on both the outside and inside of normal-looking eggs.
    • Many holiday favorites contain raw eggs, including eggnog, tiramisu, hollandaise sauce, and Caesar dressing. Always use pasteurized eggs when making these and other foods made with raw eggs.
  • Do not eat raw dough or batter.
    • Dough and batter made with flour or eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E. coli and Salmonella. Do not taste or eat raw dough or batter that is meant to be baked or cooked. This includes dough or batter for cookies, cakes, pies, biscuits, pancakes, tortillas, pizza, or crafts.
    • Do not let children taste raw dough or batter or play with dough at home or in restaurants.
    • Some companies and stores offer edible cookie dough that uses heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs or no eggs. Read the label carefully to make sure the dough is meant to be eaten without baking or cooking.

from Holiday Food Safety (FDA.gov):

  • Ready-to-Cook Foods: Cook or Bake According to Package Directions Before You Eat
    Follow the directions on your ready-to-cook food packages to help keep yourself and your loved ones healthy.
    • Whether it’s packaged cookie dough or a frozen entrée or pizza or any of the other ready-to-cook foods we use for convenience, cook or bake them according to the directions on the package, to help keep your holidays happy. Eating them right out of the package, without cooking, could make you sick from bacteria. Cooking them according to the package directions before you eat them kills bacteria that could make you sick.
    • Most people who get sick from bacteria in ready-to-cook foods that aren’t cooked properly will get better by themselves, although foodborne illness isn’t a very pleasant way to spend the holidays. But anyone, of any age or health condition, could get very sick or die from these bacteria. This is especially true for people with weak immune systems; for example, the very young, the elderly, and people with diseases that weaken the immune system or who are on medicines that suppress the immune system (for example, some medicines used for rheumatoid arthritis).
    • People at Risk: Pregnant Women (FoodSafety.gov) also need to be especially careful to follow cooking directions on packages, since some bacteria are very harmful or deadly to unborn babies.

from Have a Food-Safe Holiday Season (USDA.gov):

  • Check out FoodKeeper app available on Android and Apple devices
    • The app provides storage timelines for the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, for more than 500 products, including various types of baby food, dairy products and eggs, meat, poultry, produce, and seafood.
    • Users can view instructional videos on proper handling and storage of food and can also select to receive recall information.
    • The app is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Additional Resources (not hot-linked above)

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Cooking for Groups

Infographic, "Cooking for Groups" and introduction from Food Safety for Parties and Large Groups (FoodSafety.gov)

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
When food for parties and large groups is prepared in different locations by different people, how can you make sure that everyone prepares and stores food safely? Consult these guidelines.

From "Cooking for Groups" Infographic
  • Reheating Food
    • Reheat cooked food (in the microwave, on the stove top or in the oven) to at least 165ºF.
    • Do not use a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker to reheat food - this leads to too much time in the danger zone.
  • Keep Hot Food Hot
    • Cooked food should be held at or above 140ºF.
    • Use heated chafing dishes, warming trays, or slow cookers to keep hot food hot.1 
  • Keep Cold Food Cold
    • Store food in the refrigerator at 40ºF or below.
    • Place cold food in containers on ice to keep food below 40ºF.
  • Danger Zone
    • What is the Danger Zone? Temperature range (between 40ºF and 140ºF) where bacteria multiplies quickly.
  • Two-Hour Rule
    • If perishable food is kept at room temperature, do not leave it out for more than 2 hours.
  • Serving Food
    • Use clean containers and utensils to serve food. 

Excerpts from Serving up Safe Buffets (FDA.gov)
(Full FDA.gov page in Spanish at Prepare un bufé seguro para sus invitados con estos consejos basicos.)

1 Some warmers only hold food at 110°F to 120°F, so check the product label to make sure your warmer has the capability to hold foods at 140°F or warmer. This is the temperature that’s required to keep bacteria at bay! Use a food thermometer to check.

  • Watch the Clock
    • Remember the 2-Hour Rule: Discard any perishables left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, unless you’re keeping it hot or cold.
    • If the buffet is held in a place where the temperature is above 90 °F, the safe holding time is reduced to 1 hour.
    • Watch the clock with leftovers, too! Whether you’re sending “doggie bags” home with guests or are saving them for yourself, leftovers should be refrigerated as soon as guests arrive home and/or within 2 hours!
  • Size Matters
    • If you’re planning a buffet at home and are not sure how quickly the food will be eaten, keep buffet serving portions small.
    • Prepare a number of small platters and dishes ahead of time, and replace the serving dishes with the fresh ones throughout the party.
    • Store cold back-up dishes in the refrigerator and keep hot dishes in the oven set at 200 °F to 250 °F prior to serving. This way, your late arriving guests can safely enjoy the same appetizing arrangements as the early arrivals.
  • Keep It Fresh
    • Don’t add new food to an already filled serving dish. Instead, replace nearly empty serving dishes with freshly filled ones.
    • Be aware that during the party, bacteria from people’s hands can contaminate the food. Plus, bacteria can multiply at room temperature.

Excerpts from People at Risk of Food Poisoning (FoodSafety.gov) 

Additional Resources (not hot-linked above)

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More Help

Excerpt from USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (FSIS.USDA.gov)


If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.

The Hotline is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p. m., Eastern Time, but closed on other Federal government holidays.

Check out the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov.

Send email questions to MPHotline@usda.gov.

Ask USDA! (Ask USDA | PregunteleaKaren.gov
USDA's automated response system can provide food safety information 24/7 and a live chat during Hotline hours.

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