The FDA's 4 New Holiday Food Safety Warnings You Need to Know

Don't put you or your loved ones at risk of foodborne illness when gathering this year.

Many of us are gearing up to gather with loved ones soon, whether that's for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. But no matter what you're celebrating, there's one thing that brings us all together: the food.

Families typically celebrate these end-of-the-year holidays by eating some type of feast together, but if people start getting sick from their shared meal, that holiday joy can quickly turn sour. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), unsafe food-handling practices can result in people getting food poisoning at their family holiday gatherings from consuming contaminated food or drinks. Vomiting, diarrhea, and other flu-like symptoms can develop within hours.

"Foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone," the agency said. Thankfully, these illnesses are avoidable. In fact, the FDA just released new warnings that can help keep you safe at your upcoming holiday gathering. Read on find out the four holiday food safety tips you need to be following this year.

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Keep everything clean.

Home grown freshly harvested carrots being washed under a tap in a domestic kitchen

If you don't know where to start with food safety this holiday season, the FDA kept it simple: "The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean," the agency said in its new alert.

This means you should wash your hands prior to doing anything else, according to the FDA. Make sure you wash them with warm water and soap for 20 seconds both before and after handling food.

Don't forget to wash your preparation tools, too. The FDA said that any food-contact surfaces—which includes cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops—should also be washed with hot, soapy water after you prepare each food item and before you move on to the next.

In terms of the food items themselves, however, there are some things that should not be scrubbed.

"Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt," the FDA said. "Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops."

Know what to separate.

Women serving food on the table together

Bacteria can also spread from one food to another while you're preparing your holiday feast. This is called cross-contamination, according to the FDA. But you can prevent bacteria from having the opportunity to spread by properly separating certain things from the get-go.

"Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked," the agency advised. "Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals."

When you're preparing your food, keep the foods that will be cooked, like raw meat, poultry, and seafood, away from those that will not be, like raw fruits and vegetables. This will require you to use different cutting boards and kitchen utensils for these products.

Once things are cooked, make sure you're still keeping separation in mind. "Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices," the FDA warned.

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Make sure everything is cooked completely.

couple preparing Christmas dinner together at home

Undercooked food is a recipe for food poisoning, which is why the FDA is also stressing the importance of making sure that food is safely cooked. This is achieved "when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria," according to the agency. For a holiday staple like turkey, that internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit all the way around before it is eaten.

"To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast," the FDA said, noting that if the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing should also be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you're serving sauces, soups, or gravies with your turkey, you should bring them to a "rolling boil when reheating," the agency said. Eggs are also often used in holiday dishes, and it's important to cook them correctly as well.

"Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites," the FDA advised, also warning consumers against eating uncooked cookie dough when making holiday treats, as it "may contain raw eggs."

Don't wait to chill.

Young woman protecting food in kitchen with foil

People tend to cook a lot of food for the holidays in order to accommodate everyone that might show up, even though most of the time, it doesn't all get eaten at once. As a result, we're often wrapping up leftovers to eat during the days that follow in order to avoid food waste. But if you're not storing leftovers properly, you could be facilitating foodborne illnesses.

"Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours," the FDA warned. If food isn't refrigerated quickly, "harmful bacteria can grow rapidly at room temperature," according to the agency.

For safe storing, your refrigerator should also be set at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. "Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer," the FDA said.

But regardless, you should only keep leftovers in the fridge for three to four days. And do a sniff test before eating. "Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out," the agency said.

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