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Is it OK to eat Easter eggs? Holiday food safety tips you need to know

Make sure those honey-baked hams and lamb roasts are cooked properly.
by Lyn Mettler / / Source: TODAY

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Ready to enjoy baked ham, deviled eggs and all those yummy Easter treats?

Holiday meal prep can be a joy or a chore, but with so many cooks in the kitchen (and so much food being prepped), sometimes safe food handling practices fly out the window. Make sure you’re preparing food properly, so all of your guests leave with a full tummy — not a sick one.

Take extra care with eggs

Whether you like 'em dyed, deviled or hard-boiled, you can’t have Easter without eggs. But eggs can carry salmonella, which can make you very sick. “Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to [salmonella] infections,” Argyris K. Magoulas, technical information specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA), told TODAY Food.

Ryan's Heavenly Deviled Eggs

According to the USDA, salmonella can be present on both the inside and outside of normal-looking eggs. To avoid the risk of getting sick from eggs, they suggest:

  • Keeping eggs in the refrigerator

  • Trashing cracked or dirty eggs

  • Washing hands and surfaces after handling

  • Cooking until both the yolk and white are firm

  • Cooking recipes containing eggs to an internal temperature of 160 degrees

  • Not eating eggs that have been at room temperature for more than two hours

That means you should skip eating those hard-boiled eggs used in Easter egg hunts, or as decoration, if they've been lying around for more than two hours. Sorry, but all those hard-to-hunt-for eggs are going to have to go in the trash.

Helpful ham habits

When it comes to that delicious Easter ham, double check the label to see if the ham is ready-to-eat or needs to be cooked. If it does need to be cooked, the USDA says you should cook it at no lower than 325 degrees to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. This will destroy any food-borne pathogens in the pork.

Elizabeth Heiskell's Cola Ham with Brown Sugar Glaze and Jezebel Sauce, Pimento Cheese Pinwheels, Slow-Cooker Meatballs with Grape Jelly Sauce. TODAY, December 19th 2016.
Elizabeth Heiskell's Cola Ham with Brown Sugar Glaze and Jezebel Sauce, Pimento Cheese Pinwheels, Slow-Cooker Meatballs with Grape Jelly Sauce.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

After the holiday, you'll probably have plenty of ham left over for sandwiches — but that doesn't mean you can snack on it forever. Magoulas told TODAY Food that a fully cooked or ready-to-eat ham can be safely kept in the refrigerator for a week, while spiral ham will last about three to five days. Check out the FSIS Ham Storage Chart for more details.

Love your lamb

Lamb is another popular main attraction at Easter because of its religious ties to the holiday. The USDA advises using raw ground lamb or stew meat within one to two days of purchase and lamb chops, roasts or steaks within three to five days. Before the meat is cooked, make sure to keep it in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower.

And just like chicken, you should not rinse lamb meat before cooking it, because of the risk of cross-contamination. Heating it to an internal temperature of 145 to 160 degrees, depending on the cut of meat, will destroy any harmful bacteria. And any lamb leftovers should be eaten within three to four days.

Cook with care

A common mistake that many home cooks make with a variety of dishes, according to Magoulas, is that they leave foods out that either need to be heated or refrigerated for too long. “Be sure to keep hot foods hot (at 140 degrees minimum) and cold foods cold (40 degrees or less),” he advised, suggesting serving cold food over ice.

Magoulas also explained that these foods should not stay at room temperature for more than two hours, and if it’s 90 degrees or hotter, no more than an hour.

Got more questions about food safety? Here are 10 food safety myths debunked.

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