This time of year, it’s popular to celebrate holidays by inviting friends or family over for a special holiday buffet. However, leaving food out for long periods of time can result unintended guests such as bacteria that can make you sick for days.

But, if you plan right and follow these simple rules for how to serve a safe holiday buffet, from the USDA, you and your family can enjoy a safe holiday season enjoying companionship and good food without getting ill.

  • Always wash your hands and surfaces prior to food preparation, and then use clean containers to serve your food. A simple mistake such as reusing a dirty cutting board or plate that previously held raw meat or poultry could cause illness. And it’s a good practice to use separate cutting boards when cutting raw meat and raw produce.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat and poultry are cooked to the proper internal temperature. That means that all ground beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to 160°F and all poultry should be cooked to 165°F, verified by a food thermometer.
  • Cool your foods quickly by using shallow containers and place them in the refrigerator until ready to use. Then remember to reheat them to the safe internal temperature prior to serving.
  • Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything that has been there two hours or more.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods should be held at a temperature 140 °F or warmer. On the buffet table you can keep hot foods hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 40 °F or colder. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. You can also use smaller serving trays and replace them often.

So go ahead and enjoy your holiday season and just remember these simple rules to keep your holiday buffet safe.