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Tips for safe as well as delicious holiday meals


Curt Wohleber
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-5409

Published: Monday, Dec. 9, 2013

Story source:

Londa Nwadike, 816-482-5850

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. —Unless they look that way because of food coloring, you generally want to steer clear of green eggs and ham.

And even normal-looking ham and eggs might contain an unpleasant surprise without proper attention to food safety, says Londa Nwadike, extension food safety specialist for the University of Missouri and Kansas State University.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne illness strikes almost 50 million people in the U.S. each year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths.

“Foodborne illness is especially a concern for people with weak immune systems, including the very young, the elderly, pregnant woman and anyone with a condition that weakens the immune system,” Nwadike says.

She offers some tips to ensure that the holiday ham and eggnog are safe as well as delicious.


Because ham is typically preserved through some combination of curing, smoking and salting, some holiday hosts and hostesses may not practice the same vigilance they do with their Thanksgiving turkey.

But there are many different kinds of hams, Nwadike notes. Some you can store at room temperature for months. Others have shorter shelf lives and require refrigeration. Some you can eat cold right out of the package; others need to be cooked thoroughly first.

“It’s important to know what kind of ham you have to know the safe storage, cooking and handling of that ham,” she says.

If you are buying ham from a store, read the label, which will tell you what kind of ham it is and provide safe-handling instructions.

As with any meat product, check the internal temperature at the centermost part of the ham with a food thermometer to make sure it has reached a safe temperature.

Cook-before-eating cured and fresh (uncured) hams should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Fully cooked hams can be eaten cold or reheated to 165 degrees.

For more information on cooking and storing many different kinds of ham:

Ham storage and cooking (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):

Ham and food safety (U.S. Department of Agriculture):


Your holiday eggnog recipe may have been in the family for generations, but you’re still taking a chance if it counts on alcohol to kill salmonella and other harmful bacteria.

“Any recipes that include uncooked or lightly cooked eggs, such as eggnog or mousse, should be modified so that the egg mixture is cooked to 160 degrees,” Nwadike says. “Or use pasteurized eggs.”

Once your egg mixture reaches 160 degrees, cool it quickly by setting the pan in a bowl of cold water, she says. To speed cooling, stir occasionally for about 10 minutes.

Bacteria can quickly multiply in moist desserts containing egg and dairy products, so you should refrigerate them if they will not be eaten within two hours of cooking. This includes eggnog, cheesecake, cream pies and cakes with whipped cream and cream cheese frostings.

For more extension resources on food safety, see and

Sidebar 1: Eggnog recipe

Nwadike suggests this recipe for food-safe eggnog from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

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

Heat milk in a large saucepan until hot. (Don’t 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.

Sidebar 2: Food safety 101: Clean, separate, cook, chill


  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling 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 an internal temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria. Don’t rely on color to determine doneness; use a food thermometer to ensure that the food has reached a safe temperature:

  • Egg dishes and ground meats: 160 F.
  • Turkey, chicken, duck and stuffing: 165 F.
  • Beef, veal, lamb, pork, fish steaks and roasts: 145 F.


High temperatures kill bacteria. Low temperatures stop their growth. In the middle—40 to 140 degrees—is the temperature danger zone in which bacteria can thrive and multiply.

  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator, microwave or under cold running water, NOT on the kitchen counter.

In a unique joint appointment between Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, Londa Nwadike serves as state extension consumer food safety specialist for both Kansas and Missouri. She works with extension specialists and other stakeholders in both states to develop programming and resources in food safety, focusing on consumer issues.