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Holiday Food Safety

Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner or taking part in a cookie exchange, remember: safety first! These holiday food safety tips will help ensure the Christmas side dish you bring to the office potluck party and the edible gifts you send are in tip-top order, safety wise. You might also want to check out our Top 10 Food Handling Tips article and Top 10 Safety Rules. The latter is geared towards kids—but the rules apply for us all.

Whether you’re setting up a buffet at your house or bringing a dish to a friend’s, review these holiday food safety guidelines. You’ll even find helpful tips on sending and receiving mail-order food gifts.

General Entertaining Safety

Practice basic food safety rules in the kitchen. Ask guests before a party if they have special requirements such as low-fat diets or food allergies. Offer punch or soft drinks along with alcoholic beverages so people have choices. Have the phone number of a local cab company handy in case someone needs a ride home.

Potluck & Buffet Safety

Setting up a holiday buffet or transporting food to another party? Follow these tips:

  • If traveling a long distance with a dish, take a nonperishable food, such as bread or cookies. Gelatin molds are a good choice for cold-weather travel.
  • If transporting a hot or cold dish, pack it in an insulated chest to keep it at a proper temperature.
  • When asking guests to bring a dish, consider their travel time. Cold foods need to be kept cold and hot foods hot on the road. If you have oven space, suggest a ready-to-bake vegetable casserole.
  • Find more tips about Food Safety for Celebrations, including advice for a safe buffet table.

Mail-Order Food Safety

Giving food gifts is a wonderful holiday tradition. Whether mail-order or homemade, if you’re thinking of sending food gifts—or look forward to receiving them—check out these tips:

  • If you’re not sure the recipient of your gift will be home to receive it, send nonperishable items that require no refrigeration. Jams, jellies, dried fruit, nuts, candies, cookies and breads are good choices.
  • Ask mail-order companies how the food will be mailed. If it’s perishable, it should be shipped overnight. Make sure the box is appropriately packed and labeled “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated” to alert the recipient.
  • Make sure items are packaged with storage and preparation instructions.
  • If sending homemade perishables, send items that can be shipped frozen. Surround with frozen gel packs or dry ice and fill any space with packing material. Label the carton “Perishable: Keep Refrigerated” and ship overnight.
  • Avoid sending perishable food to an office unless you know that it will arrive on a workday and that refrigerator or freezer space is available.
  • When receiving perishable food, open the box immediately and check the content’s temperature. The food should arrive frozen, partially frozen or refrigerator cold (40°F).
  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables immediately. Partially defrosted items should be safe to refreeze, though there may be a slight loss of quality.
  • If you receive warm perishable food, do not eat it. Notify the mail-order company if it is responsible. If you were not home to receive the package, the food company is not to blame.

Try our Healthy Living holiday recipes.

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