Gathering Safely

Tips for a family holiday gathering during the pandemic

November 13, 2020

Tatyana Warrick is public relations manager at NSC, and Christopher Sanew is a writer at NSC and a certified food protection manager. 

The first holiday season of the pandemic brings up many questions about how or whether we can still safely see family and friends over the holidays. With most of the country experiencing an upswing in new cases and infections, and cold weather making outdoor gathering less welcoming, many families are now trying to figure out the best and safest way to gather, if at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges caution for holiday celebrations given existing public health guidance. Smaller outdoor or indoor in-person gatherings are still possible, if everyone agrees to maintain a safe distance, refrain from sharing objects and only gather with people from the same local area or community.

Food is the centerpiece for holiday gatherings, and shared meals featuring cherished family recipes are often a favorite part of the season. This year, if you are having a small, local gathering, you can keep tradition alive while making some small changes to keep the celebration safe.

The CDC reports that there is no evidence of food-borne spread of COVID-19. However, general food safety precautions always apply:

  • Anyone who feels even slightly ill should avoid preparing and handling any food
  • Avoid cross contamination by thoroughly washing and cleaning any surfaces and utensils involving raw meat, poultry and seafood before using them for raw foods like fruits and vegetables or anything that is cooked and ready to be eaten
  • Ensure all food is cooked to the proper temperature
  • Keep cold foods cold (40 F or below) and hot foods hot (165 F for most foods, including leftovers)
  • Perishable foods kept at room temperature should not be left out more than two hours

Consider individual food portions rather than passing around platters and bowls family-style. Serving food in reusable vessels like ramekins, small plates and bowls offers other food safety advantages; a baking sheet of ramekins with stuffing can be uniformly heated and held at the proper temperature (likewise for cold items like salad, which can be stashed in the fridge). If that isn’t an option, try having one person prepare plates for everyone. Sustainable single use dinnerware not only reduces risk, it also makes cleanup easy.

Follow the lead of our foodservice and hospitality professionals who have been safely taking care of customers throughout the pandemic. Wear a mask and use gloves when handling ready-to-eat food. Latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves can also assist with cross-contamination when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Regardless of how or whether you plan to celebrate with others, getting the flu vaccine is an important first step to protect yourself and those around you, along with wearing a mask in public settings, washing hands frequently and maintaining physical distancing.

For those who are planning to attend in-person gatherings with friends or family outside the household, and especially with visitors who may not be local, a strict no-contact period of 14 days before and after may be recommended to minimize exposure risk. This may not be possible for everyone, but with hospitalizations on the rise and little chance of an effective vaccine on the horizon before next year, the best bet for keeping our loved ones safe may be to keep our distance for the time being.

If this pandemic has proven anything, it is that people are going to creatively find ways to bring joy and connection wherever possible. We have created virtual weddings and birthday car parades, constructed candy chutes for trick-or-treaters during Halloween, and devised ways to share food and love with those around us safely. In more ways than one, this upcoming holiday season will be one for the record books. It’s up to us to make sure it is for our ingenuity of spirit rather than throwing caution to the wind. Let’s keep each other safe this holiday season, even if we can’t be with the ones we love.

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