The holidays are fun and joyous occasions when family and friends get together and enjoy food! As people gather this season, consider the following food safety tips to ensure a healthy and safe holiday.

Preparing Food

Buffets are common during the holidays. However, when food is left out for long periods, there is an increased risk of bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses. Follow these tips when preparing for your party:

  • Clean hands before food preparation and after handling food.
  • Keep your kitchen, dishes, and utensils clean.
  • Separate raw and cooked foods. Avoid cross contamination by reusing plates that previously held raw meat or poultry.
  • Cook using a food thermometer to ensure food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature.

Serving Food

Prevent harmful bacteria from crashing your party. Bacteria grows on food left out longer than 2 hours at room temperature. Follow these tips to keep your friends and family from getting sick:

  • Keep cooked foods at 140 degrees or higher. Use slow cookers and warming trays to keep foods hot on your buffet table.
  • Keep cold foods at 40 degrees or colder. Use bowls of ice and replace trays often to keep foods cold on your buffet table.
  • Bacteria can multiply quickly in moist desserts with dairy products. Refrigerate these dishes until serving time.
  • Replace empty platters instead of adding food to a dish that already has food on it. Prepare extra serving platters ahead of time and bring them out as needed.

Storing Leftovers

There are limits on how long you can keep leftovers safely. Follow these tips when storing leftovers:

  • Refrigerate cooked leftovers within 2 hours. It’s safe to refrigerate, freeze, or thoroughly reheat any food set out for that time. Any longer, the risk of spoilage is higher, and it’s better to discard.
  • Store leftovers in small portions. It allows the food to chill quickly and evenly, avoids overheating your fridge, and lets you take out only as much as you need.
  • Eat leftovers within three to four days. When freezing leftovers, use them within 2-6 months for best quality.


USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension