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STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the time of year when many families will be gathering around the dining room table savoring the flavors of their favorite holiday foods.


Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center wants to make sure consumers keep food safety tips in mind when preparing those holiday meals.


“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year about one in six Americans get sick from foodborne diseases,” said Peter Muriana, FAPC food microbiologist. “While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, food safety during the holidays is a must in order to prevent bacteria from growing and causing illness.”


Muriana suggests the following food safety tips to ensure your holiday meal is not only delicious, but also safe.


  1. Shop for holiday foods safely. Buy fresh meat preferably one or two days before cooking it, and keep the meat separated from the fresh produce when bagging. Extra caution should be used when buying fresh, stuffed turkeys because of the potential for bacteria growth in the stuffing. Pick up the meat, dairy, eggnog and eggs just before checking out and do not leave them in the hot trunk of a car for any appreciable time. In the refrigerator, do not place fresh/raw meats on shelves above produce or other items consumed without cooking; raw juices from meats might have harmful bacteria that may drip onto items placed below them. 
  2. Develop a master plan. Take into consideration available refrigerator, freezer and oven space to keep hot foods at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If using ice chests, make sure to have plenty of clean ice on hand.  Check the cooler frequently to make sure the ice has not melted.
  3. Wash hands often. Wash hands before, during and after food preparation to minimize bacterial contamination. Wash with hot water and soap up to your wrists and between your fingers for approximately 20 seconds.
  4. Separate to avoid cross contamination. Use two cutting boards: one for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish, and the other for cutting fruits and vegetables, cooked food or preparing salads.
  5. Wash all fresh produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. Even wash prepackaged greens to minimize bacterial contamination.
  6. Thaw frozen meats safety. Defrost meats in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours, depending on size, or submerge meat in its original package cold water and allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound.
  7. Cook to proper temperature. Use a thermometer to make sure food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. Turkey, stuffing, side dishes and all leftovers should be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Keep guests out of the kitchen. Holidays occur during cold and flu season and preventing guests from sampling the food while it is being prepared limits the number of germs getting on the food. Serve appetizers to give guests something to nibble on until the meal is ready.
  9. Refrigerate leftovers. Leftovers should be divided into smaller portions, stored in several shallow containers and refrigerated within two hours after cooking. Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. If large amounts are left, consider freezing leftovers for later use.
  10. Eating leftovers. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout or until steaming hot. Soups, sauces and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute. Never taste leftover food that looks or smells strange. When in doubt, throw it out.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop, and deliver technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

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