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FOR EXPERT COMMENT: Avoiding Food Poisoning at Holiday Parties is Easy and Important to Keeping Stomachs Jolly, says MU Food Scientist

December 20th, 2010

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

By Brad Fischer

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Holiday party revelers typically go to feasts, festivities and functions to ring in the new year or spread holiday cheer, not to become sick with food borne illnesses. A University of Missouri food science expert has a few easy tips on how partygoers can stay safe and hosts can make sure their guests stay merry this holiday season.

MU food scientist Andrew Clarke has a few tips for keeping stomachs happy this holiday season.

MU food scientist Andrew Clarke has a few tips for keeping stomachs happy this holiday season.

“The holidays are great for having fun and visiting with loved ones, but people have to be careful when going to the serving table at holiday parties,” said Andrew Clarke, associate professor of food science in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “It’s not that hard to avoid food poisoning, but many people take unnecessary risks.”

Ill-prepared or improperly stored holiday food can easily harbor numerous bacteria and microbes that can lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning symptoms typically occur two to six hours after eating and include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million incidents of food poisoning occur in the United States annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and up to 3,000 deaths each year.

Clarke advises party hosts and guests to beware of buffet lines and serving tables. Food that is out for more than two hours should be avoided. He says hosts can prolong the serving time of food by putting hot foods on a burner or cold foods on ice. Newly warmed foods should not be added to serving bowls already on the line. Instead, he recommends that hosts use individual dishes that can be taken out of the refrigerator or oven rather than piling new food on top of any remaining servings. Clarke says guests should watch for “double-dipping” and other actions that could introduce illness-causing bacteria to the serving table.

“People need to keep an eye on what others are using to scoop the dip onto plates and walk away if they see something that they don’t like,” Clarke said. “Also, beware of the ‘double-dipper,’ or the person who dips a celery stick into a dip, takes a bite, and then puts the uneaten half of celery back into the dip for a second taste.  Not only is this socially unacceptable, but it introduces new germs into the dip for the next person to consume.”

Similarly, he says party hosts should provide utensils for guests to put finger foods on plates. This limits the number of germs that can be transferred to the food. Clarke says holiday mainstays such as hollandaise sauce, homemade egg nog and other foods made with raw eggs are particularly dangerous because they could harbor salmonella. Respecting serving times and keeping these items refrigerated is especially important.

Once the party is over, most people relegate their holiday goodies to leftover status, but Clarke says people must continue to be wary of food-borne illnesses. Clarke says foods that have not been refrigerated within two hours of serving should be discarded. He says that many leftovers, when properly stored, will stay safe in the refrigerator for up to four days. When serving leftovers, Clarke says food must be heated thoroughly to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.