Holiday Kitchen and Food Safety Tips

happy friends having dinner at restaurant

Gathering with family and friends is a hallmark of the holiday season and most of these gatherings involve food – whether it’s a feast around the table, snacks during gameday revelries, or simply dessert shared after an evening out. Read through the following guidelines before the season begins to avoid preventable injury or illness, and to make sure your holidays are filled with pleasant memories.

General Kitchen Safety Tips

There are specific safety practices that apply to particular areas and objects in your home. Two special areas of concern in the kitchen are avoiding burns and preventing cuts. Since you will likely be spending more time in the kitchen during the holiday season, you will want to be sure that it’s a safe and pleasant experience. Here are some simple but effective tips that apply to your kitchen.

Avoiding Burns

  • Never leave handles of pots cooking on the stove protruding outward. Turn them inward so that they do not stick out into an area where people walk.
  • Keep all hot food and beverages away from young children and pushed away from the edges of counters and tables. Be sure to turn off all burners when not in use.
  • Keep cords, tablecloths, and placemats away from the reach of children.
  • Watch out for steam that might escape when you lift the lid from a pot on the stove. Use a mitt and lift the lid so that the steam escape to the side or rear of the pot and away from your face.
  • Never use a wet towel or potholder to lift hot pots.
  • Always use a potholder to remove items from the microwave.
  • Arrange the shelves in your oven before you preheat and be very careful when pulling them out during cooking to check on progress.
  • Keep electrical appliances and electrical cords far from the sink and any other area where they could come into contact with water.

Avoiding Cuts

  • When handing scissors to another person, close them and hold the blades while handing them over.
  • Avoid walking around with knives.
  • Avoid handing knives directly to another person. Lay the knife on the counter for the other person to pick up.
  • Always use a cutting board to chop or slice things.
  • Treat food processor blades with great respect.
  • Never lay knives or anything else sharp in a sink of soapy water where they might not be easily seen.
  • Never put your hand in a garbage disposal. If something falls in, turn off the disposal and the water and try to retrieve it using tongs. If this doesn’t work, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for clearing a jam or call a repair person.

General Food Safety Tips

In addition to avoiding burns and cuts during food preparation, it’s important to understand the basics of safe food handling so that you can discourage foodborne illnesses. Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Wash your hands with warm soap and water before, during, and after food preparations.
  • Always use clean bowls, pots, and utensils in food preparation.
  • Cook food thoroughly. For example, use a food thermometer to ensure meat, poultry, and seafood have been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  • After foods are cooked or prepared, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods after two hours.
  • Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods both at the grocery store and at home in your refrigerator. Once home, place them in containers or sealed plastic bags, and keep eggs in their original carton.

Holiday Party Food Safety Tips

The USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline suggests following these guidelines to keep your holiday party or buffet safe by preventing the spread of bacteria that causes foodborne illness.

  • Always serve food on clean plates.
  • Cook all beef, pork, lamb or poultry to proper internal temperatures.
  • Keep cooked foods in shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve. Reheat hot foods to 165 °F. Arrange and serve on several small platters rather than one large platter. Hold the extra hot food in the oven at 200-250 °F or in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Always use fresh serving platters rather than placing food on the existing platters.
  • Keep track of how long food has been sitting out. If it has been more than two hours, discard it.
  • Use slow cookers, chafing dishes, and warming trays to keep foods hot (140 °F or warmer). Keep foods cold at 40 °F or colder by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.

Turkey Prep Safety Tips

The main attraction of the holiday feast is the turkey. Follow these guidelines from the CDC for safely thawing, handling, preparing, and cooking your turkey this year.

  • Thaw your turkey by placing it in a shallow container in your refrigerator or by placing it in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink full of water (but change the water every 30 minutes).
  • Preparing stuffing for your meal is best done by cooking it in a separate casserole dish. However, if you really prefer stuffing cooked inside the turkey, wait until you are ready to put the bird in the oven and stuff it then. Check the stuffing’s center using a food thermometer, which should reach 165°F. Wait 20 minutes after removing the turkey from the oven before removing the stuffing from inside.
  • Cook your turkey at a minimum temperature of 325°F and sitting in a pan 2-2 ½ inches in depth. Cooking times will vary according to the weight of your bird. Check the internal temperature using a food thermometer. Readings should be taken at the thickest part of the breast, wing joint, thigh, and stuffing.

Making Great Memories

By following these kitchen and food safety guidelines you can approach the season with confidence and ensure that your holiday memories are happy ones.