The holidays are a time for potlucks, office parties, and food-related gifts. But how can you be sure that mystery casserole, fruitcake gift basket, or shrimp cocktail are safe to eat? Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re cooking for a crowd, attending a holiday party, or deciding what to bring to an office potluck.

Cook your food to the right temperature

Raw meat, dairy, fish and eggs are some of the foods most likely to cause foodborne illness. So when it comes to food safety, a thermometer is your best friend. Cooking meats or casseroles to the right internal temperature ensures that harmful bacteria are destroyed. Using a thermometer will not only ensure that your meats are done to perfection, but that they’re perfectly safe, too. Go to to find a safe minimum temperature chart for a variety of meats and other foods.

Stay organized in the kitchen

One major concern with food safety is cross-contamination–when harmful bacteria from raw meat or seafood gets transferred to fresh or ready to eat foods. When you’re trying to make a pumpkin pie, roast chicken and stuffing all at the same time, it’s easy to let the kitchen devolve into disorder–but don’t do it. Always use separate cutting boards and utensils for meat and vegetables; keep your counters clean as you work; and be sure to wash everything afterwards with hot, soapy water.

Safe food handling and hygiene

In addition to keeping your workspace clean, always use safe food handling practices. Wash raw fruits and veggies to remove dirt and bacteria. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator. If you’re working with food, you should be washing your hands often, especially after you have handled raw meat, fish or eggs. Use hot water and be sure to lather up all the way to your elbows. Wash for at least 20 seconds.

Transporting and sharing food

If you’re bringing a dish to a potluck, try to transport it in a way that maintains its temperature–whether hot or cold. Potluck hosts should use heating or cooling elements, (like the oven, chafing dishes, or ice) to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Don’t leave perishable food out for more than two hours. And remember: when in doubt, throw it out.

Dealing with food poisoning

If you get food poisoning, you will probably know it. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, fever and stomach cramps. Older people, children and people with certain illnesses are at a higher risk of getting food poisoning. Most people’s symptoms resolve on their own, but if you’re in one of these high risk groups, seek help. You should also see a healthcare provider if you have very serious symptoms such as an ongoing high fever, extreme vomiting, or an inability to keep liquids down.

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