As we enter the holiday season — and with health care workers struggling with pandemic burn-out, we should all do our part to prevent food-borne illness at our festive gatherings.

Angela Shaw, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach food safety specialist, says her No. 1 tip for preventing food-borne illness during the holidays is “to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold.”

“If you’re planning a big get-together, think about ways that you can use chafing dishes and put burners under them or how you can use a Crock-Pot to keep things warm,” Shaw says. “Or when you think about cold (foods), can you put ice underneath your tray because it’s going to be out of the refrigerator?”

Shaw adds that if you’re serving a large roast, ham or turkey, then break down the meat into smaller pieces after cooking, store in small containers and refrigerate or freeze as soon as possible.

Also, if you’re traveling, it’s easier to keep foods cold on ice in a cooler than it is to keep dishes warm with towels or cozies, Shaw says. Once you get to the destination, heat the dish to a food-safe temperature in the microwave or oven, Shaw says.

You can find a list of recommended safe food temperatures and more tips on basic food safety at home at

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that some of our most vulnerable family members are still at risk from COVID-19, Shaw says.

If you aren’t feeling well or have any COVID symptoms, like a cough, stomachache or fever, be sure to stay home.

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