Have Safe and Bacteria-Free Holidays!

Whether you’re planning on dining with friends and family or having a more intimate holiday feast this season, the last thing you want to serve up is a food-borne illness!

So, here are some simple tips to help you make sure that bacteria, salmonella, listeria and other bad stuff stay away from your holiday table.

Just remember: Plan Ahead, Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. And always remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold!


  • Before you start cooking, decide how much food you can safely serve. Figure out ahead of time how much cooking and refrigerator space you have available to work with. For example, if you plan to defrost a turkey, plan ahead to make sure you have space and time to safely, slowly thaw your turkey in your refrigerator (Defrosting in the open air or in still water encourages bacterial growth). A large turkey needs at least 24 hours for every five pounds of weight to defrost in your fridge.
  • Make sure your meat thermometer is ready for a busy day!
  • Always buy food from a safe source, such as a market or restaurant.


  • Don’t let bacteria into your meal. Wash your hands before and after handling food.
  • Thoroughly rinse raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash and sanitize counters, cutting boards and equipment before and after preparing your holiday feast.


  • Keep produce (fruits and vegetables) separated from raw meat products.
  • If you are defrosting a turkey or meat, place it on a plate or in a pan at the bottom of your refrigerator to keep it from dripping on other foods. Once defrosted, a turkey can remain refrigerated 1-2 days before it must be cooked; beef can be refrigerated 3-5 days before it must be cooked.
  • Try to use separate cutting boards for meat and fruit and vegetables. If you can’t, thoroughly wash your cutting board between uses with hot soapy water.


  • Cook food thoroughly by using a meat thermometer to ensure that proper internal cooking temperatures are reached. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit; Pre-cooked USDA-approved hams should be re-heated to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Here’s a Holiday Meat Roasting Chart provided by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service to help guide you!
  • If you’re cooking turkey, the safest way to cook stuffing is separately, outside of the bird. Germs can thrive in the stuffing ingredients if it is improperly cooked inside the turkey.
  • Gravy should be reheated to a boil and leftovers should be reheated to 165°F before eating.


  • Keep cold foods chilled to 41 degrees or lower. Check the temperature inside your refrigerator with a refrigerator thermometer.
  • If you are preparing food ahead of time, refrigerate it to minimize bacterial growth.
  • Don’t let cooked meat, poultry, fish, stuffings, etc. sit out at room temperatures. Remember to refrigerate them separately within two hours of cooking.

For more information and food-safety tips for the holidays go to the USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website,



Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact