Millions of American humans will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 28, 2019. While family traditions differ, nearly every festive gathering will include some type of food. And that’s what makes this holiday my favorite. Since unsafe handling and undercooking of food can lead to serious foodborne illness, keep your family and friends happy and healthy by paying attention to food safety. In addition to observing the tips we shared during National Food Safety Month in September, keep the following Thanksgiving-specific food safety issues in mind:
- Turkey may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens which are destroyed only by heat. Those sound gross.
- Failure to carefully prepare and clean after handling raw poultry can contaminate kitchen surfaces. I would recommend having your dog lick up but am told that isn’t exactly hygienic.
- Leaving leftovers out too long or failing to properly clean surfaces can lead to other types of illness. When in doubt, give food to the dog. We are usually willing to take one for the team.
Take the following steps to make sure your family and friends enjoy a safe holiday meal.
(Adapted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS):
- Don’t wash your turkey.
As counterintuitive as this may be, resist the urge to rinse off your bird. If you have done this in the past, you’re not alone. Some 68 percent of the public admits to doing so. However, the USDA does not recommend washing raw meat or poultry before cooking. The reason for this is to keep germs at bay. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present. So washing meat and poultry is unnecessary. Washing a turkey doesn’t seem intuitive to me. Eating one…that’s a different story.
- Don’t thaw your turkey on the countertop.
Instead, use the refrigerator. While doing so requires planning, it is the safest method for keeping germs at bay.
- If necessary, place the packaged turkey under cold running water or microwave to defrost.
Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because it allows the turkey to defrost while maintaining a consistent, safe temperature. It generally takes 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. If you don’t have time to defrost your turkey by leaving it in the refrigerator for 1-3 days, use one of these other methods. Thaw in cold water by submerging the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave owner’s manual. Cold water and microwave thawing can also be used if your bird fails to defrost entirely in the refrigerator.
- Use a meat thermometer.
The only way to determine whether a turkey (or any meat, poultry or seafood) is cooked is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. The thermometer should register 165°F in all three places. Doing this guarantees a nice, juicy bird. And that’s a definite plus in the turkey department. If the juices run clear, the turkey If likely overcooked. So, rather than serving a dry bird, use a meat.
- Never store food outside, even in cold weather.
Storing food outside is never food safe for two reasons. First animals (both wild and domesticated), can access food stored outside, consuming or contaminating it. I resemble that comment! Second, temperatures vary. Just as a car gets warm in the summer, plastic food storage containers left in the sun can head into the danger zone (above 40°F). The best way to store extra Thanksgiving food is in a cooler with plenty of ice.
- Stow refrigerated leftovers up to four days.
Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it as soon as you can – within 2 hours of taking it out of the oven. Leftovers will last four days in the refrigerator. If you can’t use them right away, pack them in airtight bags or containers and freeze. Even in the freezer, turkey leftovers won’t last beyond four months. Although freezing may keep them food-safe, they could dry out and/or lose flavor.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Allied Universal Fire Life Safety Training Program
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