little girl smiling What good is it to spend three days cooking a beautiful holiday meal if your entire family comes down with food poisoning? If you’re not careful, unsafe food handling can turn the dream holiday dinner into a nightmare. Salmonella bacteria from uncooked or undercooked meat can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Make sure to follow these food safety tips when cooking your holiday meal:

  • Be a clean machine. Wash everything — your hands, cutting boards, utensils and countertops — with hot, soapy water, before and after handling raw meat.
  • Keep things separate. Keep raw meat — including the juice — from coming in contact with the other parts of your feast. Make sure you disinfect your countertops if any meat or juice touches them.
  • Know your stuffing. Stuffing is often just as important to your family as the turkey, but it can also breed bacteria if you don’t prepare it correctly. Remember:
    • Don’t stuff your turkey until it’s completely thawed.
    • Don’t use raw eggs (or other raw ingredients) in stuffing; instead, use pasteurized egg products, which you can find in the dairy case..
    • Use moist stuffing, not dry; heat kills bacteria faster in a moist environment.
    • Stuff your turkey loosely and put it in the oven immediately. Don’t stuff it ahead of time and refrigerate it. Or, better yet, cook and serve your stuffing in a separate casserole dish.
    • When the turkey is done, remove the stuffing immediately, before carving and serving the turkey.
  • Play by the numbers. When it comes to doneness, don’t rely on your eyesight: Invest in a meat thermometer. For turkey, check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast; it should measure at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check out the Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures for various types of meat at
  • Store leftovers right. Store leftover food in shallow containers and put it away within two hours of cooking. Eat leftovers within three to four days, gravy in one to two days.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD