Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

November 19, 2015

Elizabeth Scott

Foodborne illness can put a damper on the Thanksgiving holiday. Here are some food safety tips that you can use as you prepare your feast.

Thanksgiving is almost here. Taking part in preparing the holiday meal can be a refreshing change from eating on the go and, perhaps, months away from the kitchen. When you are cooking those mouth-watering turkeys and baking those delicious pies, however, it's important to keep food safety in mind.

Professor Elizabeth Scott, Co-Director of the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, shared some tips from the Food and Drug Administration's “Fight Bac” campaign to keep your holiday free of foodborne illness.

CLEAN: First, keep your hands and your kitchen clean.

Wash your hands with running water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling foods, especially raw meat and eggs. Make sure to clean food-contact surfaces often, as bacteria can contaminate cutting boards, knives, sponges, utensils, dishtowels, and countertops. To effectively clean kitchen surfaces, remove food waste with a paper towel, use a sanitizing product applied with a clean sponge or rag, and then allow to air dry.

SEPARATE: Make sure to keep raw food products away from cooked food products, and use separate dishes for each.

Juices and bacteria can easily spread from one item to another; this is called cross-contamination and is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. Keeping everything separate is the first step in prevention.

COOK: Cook all food to a safe internal temperature.

Foods are cooked well enough when the internal temperature of the food gets high enough to kill bacteria. Two key temperatures are 160°F for roasts, steaks, pork, and ground meats and 165°F for poultry – including that turkey! When thickest part of the turkey, the thigh area, reaches an internal temperature of 165°F and holds there for over 15 seconds, your bird is done! Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of food. If you purchase a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator, as opposed to on the counter. This approach prevents the growth of bacteria.

CHILL: Chill foods and refrigerate them quickly, in order to prevent the growth and multiplication of harmful bacteria.

Leftovers, even pumpkin pie, should be refrigerated. Refrigerator temperatures should be kept at 40°F and freezers are effective at 0°F. Discard any turkey, gravy, or stuffing that has been allowed to rest at room temperature for longer than 2 hours after cooking and store leftovers in shallow, covered containers to make sure they cool down faster than bacteria can multiply. Never reheat food more than once and use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within 3 - 4 days. Frozen leftovers should be used within 2 - 6 months.

Should you suspect that foodborne illness has become and unwelcome guest at your holiday gathering, keep the following guidelines in mind: preserve the evidence (wrap food securely, label, mark “danger,” and refrigerate), seek treatment as necessary, and contact proper authorities. It may be appropriate to contact an agency, such as the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, if the suspect food is a commercial product or was consumed at a food service facility.

Armed with this knowledge and the principles of “clean,” “separate,” “cook,” and “chill,” you are ready to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. For more information, you can reach out to the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community.