Perryman Nutrition Column: Keep Homemade Holiday Food Gifts Safe

Note to Reporters: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, an Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University.

Preparing food to share with family and friends is a highlight of the holiday season. But giving the gift of an upset stomach can ruin a holiday. If you’re preparing food, keep bacteria and foodborne illness at bay by following some simple food safety steps.


If you volunteered to take turkey and dressing, a casserole or other cooked food typically served hot to a potluck, there are some food safety steps to observe.

– Take a cooked, unstuffed turkey and a separate pan of baked dressing to your potluck. Wrap the freshly cooked turkey in foil and immediately put it into an insulated cooler. Do the same with the dressing or casserole.

– Put the cooler in a warm place inside your car rather than the trunk. Remember that food is safe to eat when left at room temperature up to two hours, and the clock starts ticking as soon as the food is out of the oven. If you arrive at your destination in less than an hour, you’ll have ample time for safe serving.


A safer option would be to cook the turkey and dressing or casserole ahead of time and keep them chilled in the refrigerator. Cut the turkey into smaller pieces to allow it to chill faster.

– When it’s time to leave for the party, pack the meat and any cooked casserole dishes with ice in the cooler to keep the temperature at or below 40 degrees.

– After arriving at your destination reheat them to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

– Do not travel with partially cooked poultry or meats with the intent to finish the cooking on the other end.

– Traveling with a cooked stuffed turkey is inviting foodborne bacteria. Bacteria can grow quickly in stuffing mix because of the moist environment. And when stuffing isn’t cooked to 165 degrees initially, raw meat juices will contaminate your delicious dressing. This has disaster written all over it.


Food gifts are fun to make and receive. If you are the recipient you need to use your best judgment about how safe the item is.

– Refrigerated food like cheese balls should arrive chilled and be refrigerated promptly.

– If you think a gift you’ve received hasn’t been properly refrigerated during the trip, don’t risk making yourself and your family ill. Food gifts that arrive in the mail labeled “keep refrigerated” should arrive cold.

– If a perishable food arrives warm, above a temperature of 40 degrees, call the company and request a replacement.

– Smoked poultry and hams have a unique flavor but are not protected from growing bacteria – smoked food should arrive cold. The exceptions are country hams and dry sausages, which are dry and have a high salt content—both of which are protective.


Cookie exchanges are popular – and another possibly an opportunity for foodborne illness.

– When you are the cookie baker remind yourself not to eat cookie dough made with raw eggs: don’t lick the spoon or the mixing bowl.

– Ask cookie swap participants to prepackage their cookies in a specific number to minimize how many hands touch the cookies and to protect them from sneezes and sniffles.

– In general, cookies are not a food safety concern, but you may want to avoid cookies with a cream cheese filling.


Egg recipes such as eggnogs, cream pies and those special cakes made with whipped cream or cream cheese frostings should be refrigerated. If you like to make a traditional eggnog using eggs but don’t want to spring for pasteurized eggs, here is a food safety tip. First, the egg-milk mixture should cook to 160 degrees followed by quick cooling and refrigerating. Adding alcohol to kill any bacteria is an old wives tale.


The holidays are a favorite time of the year. We all love to treat our tummies. By following a few simple precautions, your holiday food traditions won’t be marred by bacteria that could be lurking out of sight.