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Susan Conley (301) 504-9605
Matt Baun (301) 504-0235

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2005 - As Americans prepare for the upcoming holidays, they will encounter a variety of sumptuous food offerings — from eggnog and unique cookies to appetizers and roasted meats. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is offering recommendations to consumers to help them avoid foodborne illness while enjoying these seasonal feasts.

"From office parties to traditional get-togethers at home, many kinds of foods will be present throughout the month," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. "People should remember food that has been sitting out for more than two hours invites bacterial growth which can lead to foodborne illness."

USDA recommends everyone practice the four basic food safety steps when preparing food to help reduce foodborne illness in the United States. Those steps are:
  • Clean - Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate - Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.
  • Cook - Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked.
  • Chill - Refrigerate or freeze promptly.

The Holiday Buffet
Foods that have been sitting out for too long on the buffet or table at holiday parties can cause foodborne illness. Many parties go on for several hours and food is often left at room temperature. Be wary of any foods — hot or cold—that have been left out for more than two hours. This so called "Danger Zone," when food is between 40 °F and 140 °F allows bacteria to multiply. Any perishable foods on the table that are not served with a heating source (chafing dishes or slow cookers) or chilling source (nesting serving dishes in bowls of ice) should be discarded after remaining for two hours at room temperature.

Safely cooked hot foods like turkey, ham, stuffing, chicken fingers and meatballs, should be served hot and replenished frequently. While on the buffet, hot foods should be kept at a temperature of at least 140 °F. Cold foods, such as chicken salad or potato salad, should be served and kept cold— at or below 40 °F. A helpful hint is to prepare extra serving platters and dishes ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator or keep them hot in the oven (set at approximately 200 -
250 °F) prior to serving.

The Dessert Table
Bacteria can also multiply quickly in moist desserts that contain dairy products. Keep eggnog, cheesecakes, cream pies and cakes with whipped-cream or cream-cheese frostings refrigerated until serving time.

Some of America's favorite holiday foods may contain raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs. Most commercially sold eggnog is pasteurized, meaning the mixture has been heated to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have been present in the raw ingredients. However, if you're making your own eggnog, be sure to use a recipe that calls for slowly heating the mixture to 160 °F. This will maintain the taste and texture while also killing bacteria.

Do not allow children (or adults) to eat raw cookie dough or lick the beaters after mixing batter containing eggs. Raw eggs could be contaminated with Salmonella—a leading cause of foodborne illness.

Helpful Resources
For a food safe holiday season, USDA encourages anyone hosting or attending a holiday gathering to review important food safety information from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline - Food safety experts are available year-round Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time to answer questions about safely preparing and cooking foods. The toll-free number is 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). Recorded messages are available 24 hours a day.

Ask Karen - USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service virtual representative can answer your questions 24 hours day, seven days a week. Visit Ask Karen at

Holiday Buffets Fact Sheet - A concise one-page summary about common types of food borne bacteria associated with holiday foods. The fact sheet also provides recommendations from USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline that will help you have a safe holiday party.

Cooking For Groups Brochure - Helps hosts of large dinner gatherings and parties prepare and serve food safely for large groups. Available at

Additional food safety information is available on the FSIS Web site at
Last Modified Dec 30, 2016