Top 10 Holiday Food Safety Tips

Don't be a turkey about food safety this season.

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Cooks across the country are making plans for holiday feasts that include everyone's favorite dishes, from cornbread stuffing to pumpkin pie. Friends and families are invited, and excitement is in the air. Food safety is probably not the first thing you think about when planning a holiday dinner. But to keep your gathering from being memorable in the wrong way, it's important to take steps to protect your guests from food-borne illnesses.

While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, some 76 million people get sick from food-borne illness every year, according to the CDC. And food safety can be a special challenge during the holidays. Not only is it cold and flu season, but the menu may includes more dishes than there is room for in the refrigerator or oven.

"It takes skill, timing and organization to pull off a healthy holiday meal with all the dishes that need to be kept at proper temperature so bacteria won't have a chance to grow," says food safety expert Missy Cody, PhD, RD, head of the nutrition division at Georgia State University.

Further, most guest lists include people who are especially vulnerable to food borne illness -- older people, young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system. And your menu may include food offerings from friends and relatives that have traveled for hours or have been kept at room temperature for extended time. ("Advise your guests to put piping hot food into a container before they leave home and when they arrive, be sure to refrigerate promptly or reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit," says Cody.)