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If you’re hosting a family dinner, cookie exchange or cocktail party this holiday season, now is the perfect time to brush up on your food safety knowledge. This is especially pertinent if you or someone you love has colon cancer, as cancer and cancer treatment can weaken the immune system and increase risk of infection. So whether you’re hosting an intimate sit-down dinner or a party for 50 of your pals, follow these food safety practices to ensure a happy and safe holiday, brought to you by our friends at Meals to Heal .

The Four Basic Steps to Food Safety



1. Clean

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling food, using the bathroom or handling pets
  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces; if using cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils and counters with hot soapy water after prepping raw animal products 
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking them, but not meat, poultry or seafood (you may spread bacteria to your sink and counters)

2. Separate

  • Avoid cross-contamination from raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs by using separate cutting boards and utensils for foods that are ready-to-eat or cooked 
  • Keep raw animal products separate in the shopping cart and use individual plastic bags at checkout to contain any drippings or juices 
  • Store meats, poultry and seafood in separate plastic bags and containers in the refrigerator, and keep eggs in their carton on a shelf, not on the refrigerator door
  • d) Boil marinades used on raw food before using it again on cooked foods

3. Cook

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure your cooked food has reached the right temperature to kill bacteria 
  • Keep cooked foods hot (140 °F) by using a chafing dish, warming tray or slow cooker
  • Microwave food to 165 °F, stir in the middle of reheating, and let it stand the time stipulated (if applicable) before eating
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil when reheating; heat other leftovers to 165 °F

    Minimum Internal Temps graphic

4. Chill

  • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours of it being out; within one hour if it’s 90 °F or above outside
  • Be sure your fridge and freezer are cooled to the right temperature: 32-40 °F for your fridge and 0 °F or below for your freezer
  • Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter
  • Know when to throw food out (check out this list of common foods and their storage times)

And remember, if you’re preparing food to take to a party, be sure to keep it out of the “Danger Zone” (40 °F – 140 °F) during transportation. Bacteria thrive in these temperatures and they can start multiplying in as little as 20 minutes. Use coolers with ice or frozen gel packs to keep cold food at 40 °F and below, and use an insulated container to store well-wrapped hot food at 140 °F and above.


If you suspect an infection—common signs are a temperature greater than 100.5 °F, shaking, chills, swelling or redness—take extra precaution and follow these “safe food suggestions” from Heal Well: A Cancer Nutrition Guide.

For more detailed information on safe food practices, go to FoodSafety.gov or leaf through the USDA and FDA’s Food Safety for People with Cancer.

If you have immediate questions or concerns, “Ask Karen,” the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s 24/7 web-based automated response system, at AskKaren.gov or PregunteleaKaren.gov. Or, call or email the USDA or FDA directly.

Caryn Huneke, Dietetic Intern at Meals to Heal.

Caryn Huneke, Dietetic Intern at Meals to Heal.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
• 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
• mphotline.fsis@usda.gov

FDA Food Information Line
• 1-888-SAFE FOOD (1-888-723-3366)
• consumer@FDA.gov

 Caryn Huneke is a Dietetic Intern at  Meals to Heal . She is completing her dietetic internship and graduate degree in Nutrition Education at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.


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