The Best Recipe for a Healthy Holiday—Safe Food Handling

For Immediate Release: November 21, 2003

Media Contact: Beth Sisco-Cheng
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON—It’s holiday time—when friends and families gather together to share one another’s company and a meal. As you review your recipes, consider the food safety guidelines listed below as well.

“At the right temperature, bacteria you can’t see, smell, or taste can multiply in food preparation areas to cause foodborne illness. Foodborne illness, often referred to as food poisoning, is uncomfortable and can be potentially life threatening,” said State Epidemiologist Cortland Lohff, MD. “Seventy-six million Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year”

The majority of foodborne illness is avoidable if people just handled food properly. Here are some steps that all cooks can follow to keep their food safe during the holidays and all year long.

Safe Food Handling Guidelines

  1. Wash your hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling any food, using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  2. Bacteria can live in towels, sponges, and dish cloths. Wash them often and replace sponges every few weeks.
  3. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other food. Wash your hands, cutting board, and knife in hot soapy water after cutting the turkey and before dicing other ingredients.
  4. Cook all food to proper temperatures. For turkeys, cook until the meat thermometer reads 180°F in the thigh, 170°F in breast pieces, and 165°F in the stuffing. Re-heat leftovers to 165°F or until they are hot and steaming.
  5. Refrigerate all foods. Don’t leave leftovers out for more than two hours. Place leftovers in shallow storage containers to refrigerate or freeze.
  6. After cooking, remove stuffing from poultry or other meat and refrigerate stuffing and meat separately.

About Defrosting

Never defrost food at room temperature. Defrosting turkeys and other large, frozen meats is especially challenging for cooks. To defrost in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for each 5 lbs. of meat. Be sure to place a plate or container under the meat while it is defrosting so that the juices won’t contaminate other food. To use cold water to defrost, keep the meat in its unopened wrapper and cover with cold water in a container or sink. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the surface cold. The estimated thawing time is 30 minutes per 1 lb. of meat.

Following these steps can keep your food safe from contamination and make a safe and happy holiday for everyone.

The Vermont Department of Health has published a booklet “A Consumers Guide to Safe Food Handling to Avoid Food Poisoning” and a fact sheet “Recipe for Healthy Holidays Safe Food Handling”. Both publications are available on the Vermont Department of Health website: