December 22, 2010

State Health Department Offers Food Safety Tips for Holidays

With the holiday season in full swing, Missourians will gather for a wide variety of family meals, office parties, community banquets and other events where food will be a main attraction. While these events are central to holiday celebration, if the food is not handled safely, there is an increased risk for foodborne illness.

"Food is and has always been such an important part of gatherings, whether they are family Christmas dinners, holiday office lunches, or Super Bowl parties with friends. Nothing brings people together like food," said Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director Margaret Donnelly. "We want to make sure people know the proper steps to take to celebrate safely."

The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 48 million foodborne illnesses occur annually in the United States, and more than 128,000 people are hospitalized every year after consuming food contaminated by harmful bacteria.
"The holidays should be remembered for the good time that everyone had, not for an illness that could have been prevented," said Donnelly.
The following basic food safety tips can help prevent a holiday celebration from turning into a trip to the hospital.

Holiday Food Safety Tips

  • Clean - Wash hands and surfaces often. When preparing food, wash hands thoroughly by scrubbing them with soap and warm water for 15 seconds. Keep food preparation surfaces clean, as well, by washing with warm soapy water.
  • Separate - Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other foods. After cutting raw meats, wash cutting boards, utensils and countertops with hot, soapy water. These items can be sanitized using a solution of 1 tablespoon of ordinary liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water after washing and rinsing.
  • Cook - Cook foods to proper temperatures to assure that bacteria present in raw foods, which can cause food-borne illness, are eliminated in the cooking process. A chart for guidance on minimum cooking temperatures for foods from the USDA can be found at
  • Keep Hot Foods Hot---When serving, use chafing dishes, crock pots and warming trays to keep hot food hot. Use a food thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the food is 135° F or higher and stir the food frequently to maintain a uniform temperature.
  • Keep Cold Foods Cold: Store cold foods in the refrigerator until serving time. On the buffet table, place plates or bowls of cold food on ice. If food has been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours, throw it out. After two hours, bacteria can easily multiply and cause food-borne illness.

More information about food safety can be found at or by contacting your local public health agency.

For more food safety information, watch DHSS's Healthy Living podcast.