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Food safety tips for a healthy holiday feast

SIMCOE, NOVEMBER 29, 2010 – Enjoying food with family and friends is often a highlight of the holiday season. Family members will bring their favourite dishes from home. The oven and refrigerator will become over-stuffed. Relatives will sit and visit after a big feast, with a glass of eggnog or cider in hand. This familiar scene will play out in countless homes across Canada this Christmas.


The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit wants to remind cooks that, in addition to picking out the turkey, planning the menu, and pulling the extra folding chairs out of the closet, food safety should be on your mind as they prepare their family dinners.


A number of characteristics of a typical family feast present potential food safety risks. The Health Unit offers ten food safety tips to make sure that everyone leaves your holiday dinner feeling happy and healthy.


1.Plan ahead.Consider your refrigerator, freezer and oven space. Decide how you will keep hot foods at 60°C or higher and cold foods at 4°C or below. If you will need to use coolers, have plenty of clean ice on hand and check their temperature regularly.

2.Cook food to a safe internal temperature and serve it promptly.Stuffing, side dishes and leftovers need to be cooked to at least 74°C and kept above 60°C during serving. Use a thermometer for accurate temperature readings.

3.Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.While traveling, wrap hot foods in foil, towels or place in an insulated container to maintain a temperature of at least 60°C. Cold foods can be stored in a cooler with ice or freezer packs to keep the temperature below 4°C.

4.Properly defrost your turkey, or buy a fresh one.If you use a frozen turkey, allow 24 hours per five pounds of turkey to defrost in the refrigerator. Never defrost the bird on the kitchen counter. Cook the turkey until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 82°C.

5.Separate stuffing is safest.Cooking stuffing in the oven in its own dish, or on the stovetop, to a minimum temperature of 74°C, is safest. If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely just before putting it in the oven and remove the stuffing from the turkey right after cooking.

6.Wash your hands – before, during and after food preparation.Hand washing is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe. Wash with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

7.Keep ‘taste-testers’ away from the kitchen.Christmastime occurs during cold and flu season which means a number of guests could have bacteria on their fingertips. Do not allow people to pick at the food while it is being prepared. Also, place serving spoons and tongs with all dishes, even finger foods.

8.Only serve pasteurized apple cider.Unpasteurized fruit juice and cider may contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Pasteurized cider has been heat treated to kill harmful bacteria.

9.Be egg-stra cautious with eggnog.If making your own eggnog, use pasteurized egg products, found in most grocery stores instead of raw eggs. If using raw eggs, heat the egg-milk mixture to 74°C then refrigerate it right away in shallow containers to let it cool quickly. Commercial, ready-made eggnog is prepared with pasteurized eggs and does not need to be heated, however it does need to be refrigerated.

10.Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.Leaving food sitting out for too long is one of the most common holiday food safety problems. Place leftovers in shallow containers and place in the refrigerator. Do not overstock your fridge, as there needs to be plenty of cool air circulating around the food to properly cool it. Always store turkey meat separately from stuffing and gravy.


For more ways to prevent food-borne illnesses at your holiday gathering visit the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s website at

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Media contact:
Josh Daley
Health Promoter
Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3256 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623
[email protected]