What You Don't Know, But Need to Know to Be Safe and Healthy During the Holidays

With the 2013 Holiday season in our midst, the IFIC Foundation would like to once again wish you and yours a safe and healthful holiday season.  Too often we are bombarded with news and information about what not to do when it comes to food and health, but this year we want to provide you with two practical steps you can take to ensure your meal is safe – even the leftovers – and nutritionally balanced.

Step 1: When Preparing the Meal, Don’t Forget Food Safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illness unfortunately affects 1 in 6 Americans, or 49 million people, each year.  More than 3,000 individuals die from complications associated with foodborne illness annually.

However, more consumers are taking practical steps to ensure food safety in the home.  The 2013 IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey shows improvement in food safety practices over the last five years, but there’s always room for improvement, especially when it comes to using a meat thermometer (25% in 2009 vs. 36% in 2013).

Whether you’re preparing a large spread or small tastings, these practical safe food handling tips are important to reduce your risk of foodborne illness.

  • Clean – Clean hands and utensils often with water.
  • Separate – Don’t Cross Contaminate
  • Cook your foods thoroughly – Make sure you use a meat thermometer to reach recommended cooking temps for all foods.
  • Chill - Store leftovers promptly and throw out foods left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.

Leftovers and Food Safety


Whether our leftovers are from home-cooked meals or from restaurants, it is important to ensure leftovers are consumed safely.  For recommendations on how to safely handle leftovers, visit Leftovers and Food Safety from FSIS.

This Holiday season isn’t just about safe food handling; it’s also about nutrition and energy balance.

Step 2: Avoid feeling like an overstuffed chair

Everyone likes holiday traditions, but if the tradition of feeling “too full to move” is one that you’d like to break, you might consider planning more strategically to balance your calorie intake and physical activity. Recent research presented at Obesity Week 2013 by Zhao, Sugar, and Hall calculated the rate at which normal weight and obese young people gain weight after holiday overeating. They found that people quickly gained weight from a single holiday season of overeating, but took more than a year to lose it. If that wasn’t bad enough, obese individuals have a higher excess calorie-to-fat conversion rate, which means holiday overeating puts them at a greater disadvantage when working off the excesses of birthday and Halloween celebrations.

 Here are some ideas that can make your holidays happier and healthier:

  • Start the day with exercise. Fit in a walk, climb stairs, lift weights, dance to music. Repeat often.
  • Eat something before you leave the house. Everyone’s willpower to resist overindulgence is low when they’re hungry. Eat some protein before attending a holiday celebration.
  • Be the last to eat. Survey the food selection and sample wisely, focusing on foods that will give you the most bang for your calorie buck.
  • Taste without gorging. Enjoy the conversation or the atmosphere, sip lightly, and taste frugally. Sample a single starch (bread, rice, potato and noodles), choose a favorite protein (meat, fish, poultry, bean or egg) and enjoy fruits and vegetables with a small serving of light, fat-free, or no dressing.
  • Stay refreshed: After one festive drink, sip water or club soda with a slice of lemon or lime or other zero-calorie beverage.

If you can keep these 2 steps in mind over the holidays, you’ll be more likely to be safe, feel good and stay fit throughout so you can look forward to starting the New Year on the right foot.