USDA tips for an illness-free holiday seasonAs the holiday season ramps up, so does the frequency of parties and large meals. While the holidays are a great time to get together with family and friends, carrying food from one location to another and sharing dishes with a crowd means more opportunity for bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning.

“Whether you’re an experienced cook, a first-time party host, or simply adding a dish to the potluck lineup, the holidays can make even the most confident chefs nervous,” USDA says.

Because of this, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued some food safety tips to stay healthy this holiday season.

When shopping, USDA says to keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in your grocery cart. Cold foods should be bought last and you should ask employees to place raw meat, poultry and seafood in separate bags.

During food preparation, use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread. Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross-contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure they don’t become contaminated after preparation.

A meat thermometer should be used to ensure meats are fully cooked and safe to eat. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 ?F with a three minute rest time; fish should be cooked to 145 ?F; ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 ?F; egg dishes should be cooked to 160 ?F; and all poultry should be cooked to 165 ?F.

When cooking for groups, USDA says it’s important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold, using chafing dishes or crock pots and ice trays. Hot items should remain above 140 ?F and cold items should remain below 40 ?F. Several small plates should be used when serving food and perishable foods should be disposed of when left out for 2 hours or more.