Christmas Food Safety

Food - Fact Sheet - Christmas PeachyThe holiday season is upon us and with it comes the traditional festive meals. However, the improper storing, cooking, and serving of ham, beef, lamb, and turkey can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria like salmonella, which can cause foodborne illness. The DuPage County Health Department advises consumers that safe food handling of holiday foods is essential in preventing foodborne illness.

Specific information regarding thermometer usage and food storage can be found on the Using a Thermometer and Cold Storage Chart pages. Additionally, Peachy Keen's Food Safety in the Home is designed to teach you and your family food safety from the store to the table.

Here are some tips for preparing traditional holiday foods safely:


Fully cooked, ready-to-eat ham must be kept refrigerated. If heated for a meal, heat to internal temperature of 140°F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. After the meal, cut the ham into thin slices and refrigerate promptly. Slices will keep up to four days in the refrigerator.

Lamb and Beef

Raw lamb or beef should be used within three to five days of purchase. Lamb and beef roasts should be cooked to an internal temperature of at 145°F to be medium rare, and 170°F for well done. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. Cut into thin slices and refrigerate promptly after the meal.


Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for each five pounds of turkey. A twenty-pound turkey will take approximately four days to thaw. (Hint: Remove neck & giblets from inside the bird as soon as possible to hasten thawing.) Do not thaw on the kitchen counter. If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you can thaw the turkey in the kitchen sink, provided you refill the sink with cold water every half-hour. Cook fresh turkeys within two days, thawed turkey within four days. Read and follow the cooking directions on the label. Cook turkey until it is done (165°F). Do not slow cook overnight at low temperatures or partially cook. Some turkeys come with pop-up thermometers. They are to be used only as a guide to doneness; therefore, taking the temperature with a meat thermometer is still important.

Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until it is ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.

Food Safety Basics

Remember some basic food safety measures when handling any meal:

  • Eat the meal as soon as it is prepared.
  • For leftovers, cut the meat off the bones or into slices and put it in shallow containers in the refrigerator. Put other leftovers in shallow containers as well. Food that takes too long to cool can still grow harmful bacteria in your refrigerator.
  • Reheat all leftovers to 165°F (use your thermometer). Gravy should be brought to a rolling boil.
  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw meats.
  • Wash all knives, cutting boards and utensils also.

Following these simple tips helps assure your family and guests a safe holiday meal. Enjoy!