Carrying food from one location to another and sharing dishes with a crowd during the holiday season invites more opportunity for bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning, USDA says.
The agency is providing extra tips for both experienced cooks and first-time party hosts to ensure that foods are properly handled and cooked to avoid illness.
When grocery shopping, USDA advises cooks keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in your grocery cart. Then, ask the cashier or bagger to place your raw meat, poultry and seafood in a separate bag. Also, buy cold foods last.
When preparing food, use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross-contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure they don't become contaminated after preparation.
Finally, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of dishes to ensure they are fully cooked and safe to eat.
Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 °F with a three minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 °F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 °F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 °F; and all poultry should be cooked to 165 °F.
When cooking for groups, USDA advises cooks to keep hot food hot and cold food cold, using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 °F and cold items should remain below 40 °F.
In addition, use several small plates when serving food, and discard perishable foods left out for 2 hours or more.
When cooking a holiday roast, separate utensils and cutting boards should be used for raw and cooked roasts to avoid cross-contamination.
Cutting boards that have touched raw meat should be placed in a dishwasher or cleaned with warm water and soap.
To ensure the juiciest possible roast this holiday, use a meat thermometer. Once it has reached the USDA recommended internal temperature of 145 F, the roast is safe to eat. All cuts of pork, beef, veal, and lamb need a three-minute rest time before cutting or consuming, USDA says.
Get more cooking tips by calling the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at www.AskKaren.gov.
These services are available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.