Safe Holidays Series: Food Safety with Cooking Temperatures

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As we’re preparing to cook our favorites dishes and meats for the holidays, it is always important to remember to keep our foods at the correct temperatures, to prevent the spread of bacteria that can cause many foodborne illnesses to our loved ones who are joining in holiday meals. Two important ways things to keep this from happening is knowing the “Danger Zone” temperatures and minimum internal temperatures for meats.

According to the USDA food safety and inspection service, the Danger Zone sits between 41°F to 140°F. This range is ideal for bacterial growth. To prevent your favorite meals from reaching this temperature range, make sure your foods are held below or above those temperatures by cooling over a tray of ice or kept warm in crock pots or warming trays. Meats are a little bit different. To prevent the spread of any foodborne illness, make sure that your meats are cooked at the specified internal temperature. Below are some example of favorite holiday meats and their internal temperature requirements as provided by USDA food safety and inspection service:

Meats Held Temperature Requirement
Chicken (Whole, Part, or Ground) 165°F
Turkey (Whole, Part, or Ground) 165°F
Ham (Fresh or Smoked) 145°F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ham (Fully Cooked to Reheat) Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140°F and all others to 165°F
Beef or Pork Roasts 145°F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Leftovers 165°F

Most importantly, be sure to have a good cooking thermometer to help constantly check the temperatures for all your dishes and meats being served. Also, make sure to track the time between cooking and serving the food! Foods that are perishable, should be disposed of if they have sat out at room temperature for two hours. For more information about food safety visit the USDA Food Safety website or the NC State Extension Food Safety portal. Happy Holidays!