When you think about the holidays, does the taste of a freshly baked pumpkin pie or the aroma of a home-cooked turkey dinner come to mind? No matter what’s on your menu, food is always a central part of holiday festivities. But holiday meals can take a turn for the worse if food safety isn’t a regular ingredient in preparing food.

Whether you are a seasoned chef or you’re preparing your first holiday meal, some simple steps can reduce the risk of food borne illness ruining your holiday celebrations this year. Make sure to purchase your food from a safe source, such as a store on base, and remember these four words: clean, separate, cook and chill.

CLEAN Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after preparing food. Wash all utensils, dishes and countertops. Rinse fresh produce with water.

SEPARATE Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry and their juices separate from fruits, vegetables and cooked foods. Never use a utensil on cooked foods that was previously used on uncooked foods, unless it’s washed first with soap and water.

COOK Always use a food thermometer when cooking meat and poultry to make sure it’s cooked to a safe internal temperature. Turkey, stuffing, casseroles and leftovers should be cooked to 165 F; beef, veal and lamb roasts should be cooked to 145 F; and ham, pork and egg dishes should be cooked to 160 F.

CHILL Refrigerate food quickly after serving. Keep the refrigerator at 40 F or below. Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked. Never thaw a turkey, ham or other frozen meat at room temperature. Thawing should be done in the refrigerator. Allow 2.5 hours to 3 hours per pound for thawing time. That equates to 24 to 36 hours for a 12-pound turkey. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

To be sure the foods you present at a party is safe and free of bacteria, follow the same guidelines already mentioned. Also, never partially cook foods to be finished at a later time. Thoroughly chill foods to be transported and avoid cooking them more than 12 hours ahead of the event.

Check with the potluck host to be sure there is adequate room to safely store your dish before and after the meal. If you do not have reliable coolers, opt for foods like snacks, cookies and cakes that can be safely transported without chilling.

Be food safe this holiday season. Happy eating! For the more health information, visit or call Public Health at 479-2234.

(Courtesy of 86th AMDS)