Prevent food poisoning at holiday gatherings

Did you know that an estimated 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year? Food poisoning not only sends 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year, but it also can cause long-term health problems. 

You may already be planning departmental potlucks or get-togethers to celebrate the holidays. While only food from licensed food establishments is permitted to be sold or given away at TWU-sponsored events, activities, or fundraisers, the TWU food safety program does not apply to departmental potlucks; however, such events must be limited to members of the department and not open to the public. You can help keep your coworkers, family, and friends safe from food poisoning by following four simple steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.


Clean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Often

Germs that can make you sick can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your food, hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.


Wash your hands properly

Use plain soap and water and scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Rinse hands, then dry with a clean towel.


Wash your hands often

Especially during these key times when germs can spread:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices, or uncooked eggs
  • Before eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or helping a child who has used the toilet
  • After touching an animal, animal feed/treats, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing


Wash surfaces and utensils after each use

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, or countertops with hot, soapy water, especially after they’ve held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  • Wash dishcloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.


Wash fruits and vegetables, but NOT meat, poultry, or eggs

  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas, then rinse fruits and vegetables under plain tap water.
  • Scrub firm produce, like melons or potatoes, with a clean produce brush.
  • Dry produce with a paper towel or a clean cloth towel.
  • Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood to avoid spreading harmful germs around your kitchen.
  • Produce labeled as “pre-washed” (e.g., salad mix) does not need to be washed again.


Separate: Don’t Cross Contaminate


Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce, meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs

Use one cutting board for fresh produce or other foods that won’t be cooked before they’re eaten, and another for raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Replace them when they are worn. Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods. Use hot, soapy water to thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or flour.


Keep certain types of foods separate

In your shopping cart, separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods and place packages of these items in plastic bags, if available. When you check out, place these items in separate bags from other foods.

At home, place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in containers or in sealed, leak proof plastic bags. Freeze them if you’re not planning to use them within a few days. In the fridge, keep eggs in their original carton and store them in the main refrigerator compartment, not the door.


Cook to the Right Temperature


Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs that can make you sick

  • Use a food thermometer to be sure your food is safe. When you think your food is done, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure not to touch bone, fat, or gristle. Refer to for a Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart to be sure foods have reached a safe temperature.
  • Keep food hot (140ºF or above) after cooking.
  • If you’re not serving food right after cooking, keep it out of the temperature “danger zone” (between 40 and 140ºF) where germs grow rapidly by using a heat source like a chafing dish, warming tray, or slow cooker.


Chill: Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly


Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours

  • Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40 and 140ºF.
  • Your refrigerator should be set to 40ºF or below, and your freezer should be set to 0ºF or below. If you’re not sure, use an appliance thermometer.
  • Never leave perishable foods out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90ºF (like a hot car or summer picnic), refrigerate it within 1 hour.
  • Leftovers should be placed in shallow containers and refrigerated promptly to allow quick cooling.
  • Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter. The safest way to thaw or marinate meat, poultry, and seafood is in the refrigerator.
  • Freezing does not destroy harmful germs, but it does keep food safe until you can cook it.
  • Be sure to throw out food before harmful bacteria grow. Review the Safe Storage Times Chart on for more information.

For more information on TWU’s food safety program, visit the Food Safety website or contact Risk Management at 940-898-4001 or