For many of us, Thanksgiving and other meals served during the holidays are the largest meals we will prepare all year. These large celebrations with family and friends may also invite unwanted guests like bacteria and viruses that can cause foodborne illness.
“Every year, unsafe handling and undercooking leads to serious foodborne illnesses, especially in seniors and young children,” says Joe Graham, food safety program manager with the Washington State Department of Health.
Follow these simple steps from our Food Safety Program to make sure your holiday meals are remembered for good times with family and friends, rather than for spreading foodborne illness.
Tip 1: Make sure kitchen helpers are hand washers.
In addition to spreading good cheer, activities this time of year can also help spread norovirus and other germs from person to person and through the food we serve. Be sure to wash your hands often throughout the day, especially after using the restroom, before beginning food preparation, and after handling raw meat. And be sure that kitchen helpers have not recently been sick. Healthy food workers make happy food eaters.
It is important to keep germs from raw meat separated from other foods by storing raw meat so it doesn’t drip on food or surfaces. Continue to stop the spread of germs by taking the time to wash cutting boards, knives, countertops, and other equipment with soap and water often during food preparation. And, while it’s important to wash hands and equipment that touches raw meat, it’s also important to not actually rinse raw meat. Washing raw meat and poultry can splash bacteria up to three feet around the sink and won’t kill the bacteria. Rely on proper cooking of meat and poultry to the right temperature to destroy illness-causing bacteria that might be on the meat.
Tip 3: Use the refrigerator to keep foods cold and thaw frozen foods.
The colder you can keep food the slower the bacteria can grow. Before you purchase food to serve a large group, clean out the refrigerator and make sure it is able to keep food 41°F or colder. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the slowest, but also the safest method, to thaw. If you have a frozen turkey, it will take at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight to thaw in the refrigerator. You may also finish thawing the turkey in the cooking process, but it will greatly increase the required cooking time. See more safe ways to thaw frozen food from the USDA.
Tip 4: Use a food thermometer.
The only way to determine if meat is fully cooked is to check the internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations to make sure it is at least 165°F: the inner part of the thigh, the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook, so if you decide to stuff the bird be sure to take the internal temperature of the stuffing too. Read USDA’s guidance on thermometers and cooking temperatures for more on the different types of thermometers and important temperatures for food.
Tip 5: Leftovers: Smaller is better.
The goal with leftovers is to get them as cold as possible as quickly as possible. Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate within 2 hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Immediately refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers about 2” deep with no lid until they’re cold. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator. If you won’t use leftovers right away, put them in airtight containers and freeze. Use frozen leftovers within three months for best quality. After that, the leftovers will still be safe, but they may dry out or lose flavor. To add another level of safety, reheat all leftovers to 165°F before serving.
Tip 6: But wait, there’s more.
Learning to safely prepare holiday meals doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but it is important to plan ahead. See these links for more information to keep you and your guests safe from foodborne illness. We wish you safe and happy eating!
- Watch our Food Safety Minute videos on key food safety topics such as taking food temperatures, washing produce, and cooling foods.
- The USDA’s Seasonal Food Safety page provides resources to help with turkey preparation, traveling safely with food, mailing treats, and other food safety steps to help you celebrate with food.
- Read FDA information on people at high risk for foodborne illness to see if your guests need extra protection.
- Check out the Fight Bac! Food Safety Mythbusters page to test your home food safety knowledge.
- Want more information on foodborne illness? The CDC’s Food Safety page provides facts, figures, and more.
The above is an aggregated post from the WA State Department of Public Health. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its content.