Holiday Food Safety

glass of apple cider

Keep family and friends safe over the holidays. Some of the most popular holiday foods and events (think eggnog, hot cider beverages and buffet dinners) can be food safety risks. You can help prevent foodborne illness (food poisoning) by following these food safety tips.

Eggnog and other foods with raw or partially cooked eggs and food safety

Eggnog may be a delicious holiday tradition but it is made with raw eggs, not always a safe bet. Raw eggs may contain the Salmonella bacteria, which can be dangerous to children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weak immune systems. To be safe, use pasteurized egg products when making eggnog. Pasteurized eggs have been heated to a high temperature that kills bacteria. Pasteurized egg products and pasteurized eggnog can be found in your grocery store. 

To prepare that special eggnog family recipe that is made with raw whole eggs, you must heat the eggnog mixture to at least 71ºC (160ºF). After the mixture has stopped steaming, refrigerate in shallow containers so that it cools down quickly. 

Other holiday favourites also contain raw eggs. Sauces, mousses and recipes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs should be heated to 71ºC (160ºF). Or better yet, use pasteurized egg products for these recipes. And while you may be tempted to let your children lick the spoon after making cookies, the raw egg batter can be a food safety risk for kids.

Apple cider and food safety

Apple cider is a popular holiday drink, but unpasteurized apple cider can be a safety risk – especially to children, the elderly and individuals who have weak immune systems. This is because raw fruit can be contaminated with E.coli O157:H7. While it is quite rare, fruit may come in contact with E.coli through animal droppings or contaminated water. 

Your best bet is to choose pasteurized apple cider for the holiday punch bowl. It’s already been heat treated to kill harmful bacteria and has a longer shelf-life. If you are going to serve unpasteurized apple cider, bring it to a rolling boil (when you see large bubbles moving quickly) to kill possible bacteria.

For more information: See Health Canada’s factsheet, Unpasteurized fruit juice and cider

Buffets and food safety

Hosting a party buffet or potluck is a great way to sample a variety of delicious dishes and take the stress out of food preparation. However, food that sits out for a long time can pose a safety issue. Follow these tips:

  • Food should not be kept for longer than 2 hours in the danger zone (the temperature at which harmful bacteria are most likely to grow). Hot foods should be at a temperature above 60ºC (140ºF) and cold foods should be kept lower than 4ºC (40ºF). Anything in between is a food safety risk.
  • Use warming trays, chafing dishes or crock pots to keep foods hot. 
  • Sit serving dishes in crushed ice to keep foods cold. 
  • Restock your buffet table using clean serving plates and fresh food that has been kept warm in the oven or cool in the fridge. Change the serving utensils as well. Never refill dishes that have been sitting out in the danger zone for more than 2 hours.
  • Place serving spoons and tongs with all dishes – even finger foods. This will prevent contamination between guests and different foods.

Traveling to your holiday party and food safety

You’ve been asked to contribute to a friend’s dinner party. Here’s how to bring over that dish safely:

  • Carry hot dishes in insulated containers so that the temperature stays above 60ºC (140ºF). You can also wrap the food in foil or heavy towels. 
  • Store cold foods in a cooler filled with ice or freezer packs so that their temperature stays below 4ºC (40ºF). Fill up any empty spaces with more ice to make sure the cooler stays as cold as possible. This also prevents the food from sliding around the container and possibly spilling or leaking.

Foods stored in oil and food safety

Popular holiday gifts include vegetables and herbs packed in oil – like pesto, sundried tomatoes or garlic oil. While these foods are healthy and tasty alternatives to the usual chocolates and cookies, they can be a risk for foodborne illness (like botulism). Keep these tips in mind:

  • Homemade gifts that include fresh ingredients (garlic, fresh herbs or peppers) should be refrigerated right away. They will last about a week and can also be frozen.
  • Homemade gifts that include dehydrated ingredients (dried spices and herbs or sundried tomatoes) are safe to store at room temperature.
  • Store bought products usually contain vinegar or salt (this is what makes them shelf-stable). After opening, keep refrigerated. 

If you’re not sure about the safety of the product or how it’s been prepared, it is always safer to discard it. *Remember – if in doubt, throw it out.

For more information: See Health Canada’s factsheet, Garlic-in-oil

Leftovers and food safety

What would a holiday dinner be without leftovers? To keep your leftovers safe and delicious for the next day(s):

  • Don’t leave leftovers sitting out for more than 2 hours. As soon as the food stops steaming, place food in shallow containers (to cool down quicker) and place in the fridge. Leave lids or plastic wrap loose so that the food can reach fridge temperatures faster.
  • Don’t overstock your fridge with foods that are still cooling. This will raise your fridge’s temperature, which is dangerous for all your other food.
  • Remove turkey meat from carcass. Do not store turkey meat with stuffing and gravy.
  • Reheat turkey leftovers to 74ºC (165ºF) and bring the gravy to a rolling boil. Use up turkey leftovers within four days or freeze for later.

For more safe storage tips: Safe Food Storage

For more information on food safety:

Food Safety Network

Holiday Food Safety, Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Information

Food Safety Tips, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Last Update – March 21, 2019

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