University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Keep Foodborne Illness Off the Gift List This Year

glass of eggnog

Burlington--The holiday season provides many great opportunities for family and friends to gather, usually with lots of great food. Many families have traditions of eating certain foods around the holidays and may give food as gifts.

However, it's important to keep food safety in mind to ensure that no one receives the unwanted gift of foodborne illness this holiday season. This is a concern especially for people with weak immune systems including the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a disease that weakens the immune system.

Londa Nwadike, the University of Vermont Extension food safety specialist, offers these tips for safe preparation of holiday dishes containing eggs:

--Even eggs with clean, uncracked shells, no matter where the chickens are housed, can be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. This is why it's important to take extra care with these foods.
--Any recipes, including uncooked or lightly-cooked eggs such as eggnog or mousse, need to be modified so that the egg mixture is cooked to 160 degrees F. Or use pasteurized eggs. After getting the egg-containing mixture to reach this temperature, cool it quickly by setting it in a bowl of cold water. To speed cooling, stir occasionally for about 10 minutes.
--Adding alcohol such as rum to a recipe is not a reliable method of killing any bacteria that may be present.When preparing egg dishes or other foods for the holidays, or any time of the year, be sure to follow these food safety tips to prevent unwanted foodborne illness:


--Always wash your hands well before and after handling any food.
--Wash all food-contact surfaces after use.


--Keep raw meats and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked, such as raw veggies.
--Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables.


--Cook all foods to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Rather than relying on color to determine doneness, use a food thermometer to ensure that the food has reached the appropriate temperature for that food.
Egg dishes and meats: 160 degrees F.
Turkey, chicken, duck and stuffing: 165 degrees F.
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, fish steaks and roasts: 145 degrees F.


--Do not leave perishable foods in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees F for more than two hours. Therefore, leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours.
--Defrost meats in the refrigerator, microwave or under cold running water, NOT on the kitchen counter.

For answers to food safety questions or help in preparing your holiday foods, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854 or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Information Line at (888)-723-3366.

Try this food-safe recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for eggnog, a perennial favorite during the holidays.


1 quart 2-percent milk
6 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
Ground nutmeg

Heat milk in a large saucepan until hot. (Do not boil or scald). While milk is heating, beat together eggs and salt in a large bowl, gradually adding the sugar. Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while stirring continually. Transfer the mixture back to the large saucepan and cook on medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and just coats a spoon.

Check with a food thermometer to ensure the temperature reaches 160 F. 

Stir in vanilla. Cool quickly by setting pan in a bowl of ice or cold water and stirring for about 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight. Pour into a bowl or pitcher. Fold in whipped cream. Dust with ground nutmeg and enjoy!