A Refresher Course in Holiday Food Safety

Whether you’re whipping up a big Christmas dinner for your extended family, hosting a cocktail party for close friends, or inviting neighbors over for a casual open house, it pays to brush up on some holiday food safety tips. Here are some commonly asked questions — and answers — that will ensure that you are “the hostess with the mostest.”

Do I need to use a meat thermometer for any type of roast, or is that only necessary for a turkey?

For safety’s sake, it’s a good idea to use a food thermometer on other roasts, too. To kill bacteria, the external temperature of the meat should be 160ºF or higher. The internal temperature can vary depending on the type of meat and how well done you want it. Roast chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Beef tenderloin and veal leg roasts should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 130°F to 135°F for medium-rare and to 140°F to 150°F for medium-well. Pork loin and tenderloin roasts should cook to at least 150ºF (pork is so lean these days it doesn’t need longer cooking). Leg of lamb should be cooked to 145°F to 150°F. Always allow roasts to rest for about 20 minutes before serving to retain the juices. Keep in mind that the internal temperature of the meat continues to rise some 10 degrees as the roast rests, so check the temperature toward the end of the cooking time.

What’s the rule about keeping turkey stuffing safe?

If you are stuffing the turkey, mix the stuffing just before it goes into the turkey, then stuff loosely. This will allow the stuffing to reach a safe 165ºF more quickly. Use a meat thermometer to be sure. When the turkey is done, let it rest for 20 minutes and then remove all the stuffing from the turkey cavity. It can remain at room temperature for two hours. Never put a whole cooked turkey into the refrigerator with the stuffing still inside, since it can take so long for the stuffing to cool that it could wind up being unsafe to eat.

Can I reheat leftover stuffing or other leftovers in a slow cooker?

Since it takes too long for chilled leftovers to reheat in a slow cooker, it’s better to place them into a covered roasting pan, in an oven that’s set no lower than 325°F and reheat to an internal temperature of 165°F. You also can reheat stuffing, and many other leftovers including mashed sweet potatoes, in a microwave.

What’s the best way to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold at a buffet dinner?

The easiest way to ensure that cold foods stay cold on a buffet is to place the serving dish of food into a larger dish or pan filled with ice. To ensure that your hot buffet entrées stay hot, place them in a chafing dish or on a hot plate and watch to make sure they don’t burn on the bottom or dry out. And when you’re replenishing your buffet, put out a new platter of cooked food rather than transferring any new food to a platter that has been sitting out for awhile.

What is the best type of container for storing leftovers?

Whether destined for the freezer or the refrigerator, store leftovers like stuffing, casseroles, or cooked meats in shallow airtight containers, or wrap them tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Avoid putting hot food into very large, deep containers, since it will take too long to properly chill the food that’s in the middle.

My guests can’t make it at all. Can I refreeze the chicken (or turkey or beef) that I had taken out of the fridge earlier today?

If you have thawed or partially thawed poultry or meat in the fridge, it can be refrozen if it still contains ice. If this is the case, you can safely put the food back into the freezer without a loss of quality. If there are no ice crystals, you should plan to cook the food and not refreeze it.

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