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Food safety for the holidays: Proper cooking is a must
November 17, 2016

Food safety for the holidays: Proper cooking is a must

At my house, parties, family dinners, and other holiday gatherings are typically centered around food. But holiday cheer can quickly turn to misery if food makes you or others ill. Food safety is a top priority of meat and poultry producers and while many steps are taken to ensure the meat you purchase is safe and wholesome, the ultimate safeguard takes place in home kitchens where food must be properly handled and cooked.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act and the many regulations and directives it has generated over the years ensure that the meat and poultry industry is among the most regulated industries in the nation. Department of Agriculture inspectors are continuously present in meat packing plants and oversee compliance with a wide array of regulatory requirements aimed at making sure the meat you buy is safe.

People who work on farms are often required to complete training in steps that need to be taken to ensure meat is safe. One example is the pork industry’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus training for producers. An audit program makes sure the training is being used and provides consumers greater assurance of the care taken by farmers to improve food safety. And in the processing plant, food manufacturers also use programs to ensure food safety.

Responsible use of animal antibiotics also helps keep food safer. Antibiotics help keep animals healthy and studies show this reduces bacteria entering the food supply.

But the last line of defense, and an important step, is making sure meat is handled properly and cooked to the right temperature. And that responsibility lies with the people preparing the food for the millions of holiday gatherings that take place in homes across the country, including mine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides safety tips to observe as you prepare a stuffed turkey for the holidays. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service advises that implementing four basic safety measures – clean, separate, cook, chill – can go a long way to ensuring the food you serve family and friends is safe. The Food and Drug Administration also has a wealth of food preparation advice, including a detailed chart on safe cooking temperatures for meat, poultry, eggs and seafood. And, the gateway to food safety information provided by government agencies, has a Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart with required cooking times for meat, poultry, seafood and other cooked foods which is a useful resource.

Cooking food to a safe temperature is the best way to ensure safety. When food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature, bacteria that may be lurking are destroyed. Make sure you have a good food thermometer and know how to use it.

The U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, but according to the CDC some 76 million people get sick from foodborne illness every year. Food safety probably isn’t the first thing you think about when planning a holiday dinner. But to keep family gatherings and holiday parties from being memorable in the wrong way, it’s important to take steps to protect against foodborne illnesses.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.

Content created in partnership with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.