Holiday meals and party foods are often served buffet style.  

This means the food remains on the table as guests come and go.  

Room temperatures support the growth of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Make your holiday food events special and safe by following the 4Cs guidelines:

1. Keep everything CLEAN during food handling.

2. Keep food CHILLED.

3. COOK foods thoroughly.

4. Avoid CROSS-CONTAMINATION — the movement of bacteria from raw protein foods to cooked foods, or those to be eaten fresh.

Some guidelines to follow to keep your holiday foods safe are:

If you must cook in advance:

• Plan for adequate refrigerator or freezer storage.

• When cooking large quantities of food, quickly cool and refrigerate.  Divide food into smaller portions and store it in covered, shallow containers.  Deep containers keep food warm longer and encourage bacterial growth.

• Allow time to thaw food in the refrigerator-NEVER ON THE COUNTER!  If you thaw foods in the microwave, cook it IMMEDIATELY.

• At serving time, reheat food until they are hot throughout (165 degrees F).  Heat ‘wet’ foods, such as soup, to boiling.

When serving:

• Keep hot foods hot.  Chafing dishes may or may not keep foods at the necessary temperature (140 degrees F or above).  NEVER leave hot foods out for more than 2 hours!

• Put small quantities of food on the table.  Replace them often from the heat source in the kitchen or from the refrigerator.

Other important food safety tips:

• If buying deli foods, such as meat or deli trays, ask that they be packaged in small portions, or do this when you get home.  Refrigerate these items immediately.

• Any pies, pastries, or cakes with cream cheese, cream, custard, or soft meringue fillings or icings are perishable.  Dips made with sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese or cream cheese are also perishable.  These foods need to be kept refrigerated until serving.

• Avoid dishes with raw or undercooked eggs.  They are especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems-the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and those with chronic disease.

• Leftovers are a special concern with holiday foods.  Any foods left from the buffet line should be discarded.  Items still refrigerated or frozen, but not served, should be used within recommended times.

Use these holiday food safety tips to keep you and your family happy and healthy!

Rita Hodges serves as the Ellis County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences. Contact Rita at 972-825-5175 or Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.  The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.