Here are some tips for preparing traditional holiday foods safely from our friends at the Dupage County Health Department:

Raw lamb or beef should be used within three to five days of purchase. Lamb and beef roasts should be cooked to an internal temperature of at 145°F to be medium rare, and 170°F for well done. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. Cut into thin slices and refrigerate promptly after the meal.

Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for each five pounds of turkey. A twenty-pound turkey will take approximately four days to thaw. (Hint: Remove neck & giblets from inside the bird as soon as possible to hasten thawing.) Do not thaw on the kitchen counter. If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you can thaw the turkey in the kitchen sink, provided you refill the sink with cold water every half-hour. Cook fresh turkeys within two days, thawed turkey within four days. Read and follow the cooking directions on the label. Cook turkey until it is done (165°F). Do not slow cook overnight at low temperatures or partially cook. Some turkeys come with pop-up thermometers. They are to be used only as a guide to doneness; therefore, taking the temperature with a meat thermometer is still important. Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until it is ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.

Fully cooked, ready-to-eat ham must be kept refrigerated. If heated for a meal, heat to internal temperature of 140°F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. After the meal, cut the ham into thin slices and refrigerate promptly. Slices will keep up to four days in the refrigerator.

And not to forget Fresh Produce – Helen Branswell of our friends up north wrote an article for the Canadian Press a few months ago – Experts answer questions about contaminated produce

It’s unsettling stuff – E. coli-contaminated salad fixings and botulism-laced vegetable juice. What’s a health-conscious consumer to think when Popeye’s miracle food kills an American toddler and a swig of carrot juice paralyzes two Torontonians?

The fact is that while most people see an undercooked hamburger or chicken breast as the source of most food poisoning incidents, the vegetables and fruits public health experts urge us all to eat can be just as effective at passing along bugs that can make for a few unpleasant hours in the mildest cases and serious, even fatal illness in the most severe.

“In the States, there’s a lot of evidence now that fresh produce is the number 1 cause of foodborne illness and has outstripped foods of animal origin,” says Mansel Griffiths, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph.

So, wash you vegetables well before you cook them and/or before you serve them raw.  Me, I go right to red wine (no scientific basis for it).  Foods I avoid – unpasteurized juices and milk, sprouts, bagged, pre-washed produce of any kind, raw shellfish and other raw meats or cheeses.  Everything else I wash, wash and wash, if it is produce, and I cook all meat products a bit more that the directions above.  Also, be careful about cross-contamination between raw uncooked or unwashed foods and counter-tops, utensils and other ready to eat foods.  And, WASH YOUR HANDS.  Happy Holidays.