Preventing Foodborne Illness During the Holidays

turkeyListeria and Blue Bell ice cream. Salmonella and raw tuna sushi. Salmonella and frozen chicken. Cyclospora and unidentified food products. Salmonella and pork. Salmonella and cucumbers. Listeria and soft cheeses. E. Coli and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

All of the above foodborne disease outbreaks occurred in 2015. From 2010 to 2014, 120 multi-state outbreaks occurred, up from 34 outbreaks between 1995 and 1999 due to better detection and investigation methods, and wider food distribution. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that foodborne disease causes 48 million cases of illness, more than 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually.

The numbers are staggering, but consumers can protect themselves from being a part of the statistic this holiday season. Local health departments can help by conducting outreach to their community members about how to safely prepare, serve, store, and reheat leftovers. There are many resources available to help share the gift of safe food with the community.

The Food and Drug Administration developed tips for food safety for holiday parties, family dinners, and other gatherings. The tip sheet is a short one-pager that discusses the four different steps in keeping food safe, including keeping food preparation areas clean, separating foods to stop cross-contamination, cooking procedures to kill bacteria, and chilling foods to keep bacteria from growing.

Need an idea for a tweet or Facebook post on food safety? has provided press and media outreach tips to spread food safety education. The website also has downloadable materials that can be customized for and distributed to the public. The graphics and materials are short and simple and can be placed by the public in their home kitchens to remind them about food safety all-year round.

If your local health department needs an idea or two on how to conduct outreach to your communities on food safety during the holiday season, check out the following examples of what other local health departments have done:

  • Western Upper Peninsula Health Department maintains a webpage on “Holiday Food Safety” and safe food preparation, handling holiday leftovers, and ensuring that gifts of food are safe to enjoy.
  • Laramie County, WY issued a news release on “Turkey and Holiday Food Safety” to inform its community how to safety prepare a turkey.
  • Featuring “Food Safety for the Holidays” on the Richmond City, VA’s homepage is one way the health department keeps the community inform. The feature reminds the public of food safety and provides food safety guidelines for cooking for groups.
  • Fairfax County Health Department in Virginia created their own public service announcement video to remind the public about holiday food safety and share tips and resource created by other agencies.

In addition to home holiday food safety tips, local health departments should share these resources on safe food when dining out, ordering in, and food recalls:

Check out NACCHO’s Food Safety page for more information on food safety and defense.


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