Via a news release this morning, the USDA is once again reminding consumers to not let the excitement and stress of holiday meal planning take priority over food safety.
“From office parties to traditional get-togethers at home, many kinds of foods will be present throughout the month,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. “People should remember food that has been sitting out for more than two hours invites bacterial growth which can lead to foodborne illness.”

USDA recommends everyone practice the four basic food safety steps when preparing food to help reduce foodborne illness in the United States. Those steps are:
Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often.
Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.
Cook – Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked.
Chill – Refrigerate or freeze promptly.
The Holiday Buffet
Foods that have been sitting out for too long on the buffet or table at holiday parties can cause foodborne illness. Many parties go on for several hours and food is often left at room temperature. Be wary of any foods — hot or cold–that have been left out for more than two hours. This so called “Danger Zone,” when food is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F allows bacteria to multiply. Any perishable foods on the table that are not served with a heating source (chafing dishes or slow cookers) or chilling source (nesting serving dishes in bowls of ice) should be discarded after remaining for two hours at room temperature.
Safely cooked hot foods like turkey, ham, stuffing, chicken fingers and meatballs, should be served hot and replenished frequently. While on the buffet, hot foods should be kept at a temperature of at least 140 degrees F. Cold foods, such as chicken salad or potato salad, should be served and kept cold– at or below 40 degrees F. A helpful hint is to prepare extra serving platters and dishes ahead of time, store them in the refrigerator or keep them hot in the oven (set at approximately 200 –
250 degrees F) prior to serving.
The Dessert Table
Bacteria can also multiply quickly in moist desserts that contain dairy products. Keep eggnog, cheesecakes, cream pies and cakes with whipped-cream or cream-cheese frostings refrigerated until serving time.
Some of America’s favorite holiday foods may contain raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs. Most commercially sold eggnog is pasteurized, meaning the mixture has been heated to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have been present in the raw ingredients. However, if you’re making your own eggnog, be sure to use a recipe that calls for slowly heating the mixture to 160 degrees F. This will maintain the taste and texture while also killing bacteria.
Do not allow children (or adults) to eat raw cookie dough or lick the beaters after mixing batter containing eggs. Raw eggs could be contaminated with Salmonella–a leading cause of foodborne illness.