Thanksgiving Food Safety

November 13, 2018
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While food safety may not be the sexiest Thanksgiving blog topic, healthy is always a good look.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. How could you not adore a celebration of gratefulness, loved ones, and good food? However, the holiday lends itself to potentially hazardous food safety issues. To be fair: any gathering with many chefs (some potentially inexperienced) cooking for larger numbers than usual and food that travels or is left out on the table for extended periods of time presents food safety risks. Luckily, with a few easy precautions it's easy to protect yourself and your loved ones as you gather around good food and celebrate. 

Here are our top ten food safety tips for a healthy holiday:

  1. Wash your hands properly and often to reduce the risks of cross contamination. To wash your hands thoroughly: rinse your hands under clean, running water, lather up with soap, scrub for 20 seconds, and then rinse again and dry with a clean towel or air dry. Be sure to wash your hands before you begin cooking, after touching raw meat or eggs, and before eating.If you purchase a frozen turkey, thaw it out  in the fridge, or in a cold water bath (changing the water every 30 minutes). Never thaw your turkey on the counter! If you purchased a turkey through us, it will arrive fresh.
  2. When storing your turkey in the fridge (fresh or thawing), make sure it is tightly wrapped in plastic and sitting in a shallow roasting pan to catch any drippings. Store it separately from other raw ingredients and as low in the fridge as possible, where it will be coolest and not drip on any raw fruits or vegetables.
  3. Do not rinse your turkey. I know, I know, habits die hard, but the CDC, FDA, and the USDA strongly recommend not washing your turkey. The splash back may spread germs throughout your sink, kitchen, clothes, and arms.
  4. When preparing food, keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood and their juices completely separate from foods that won't get cooked. It's best to keep them away from other raw ingredients that will be cooked before its time to add them to the recipe, too. One of the best ways to do this are: physical separation in the fridge, doing your prep work for produce at a different time or place in the kitchen, washing your hands (and forearms!) before and after handling raw meat, seafood, and poultry, and thoroughly washing your utensils and work area with hot soapy water and/or disinfectant after working with raw animal products and before moving on in your cooking process. 
  5. If you stuff your turkey, do so right before it goes in the oven. You can always mix wet and dry stuffing ingredients the night before and store them in the fridge. If you stuff your turkey, make sure the stuffing is wet, not dry (bacteria are killed most easily by heat in wet environments). Make sure the internal temperature of the stuffing reaches 165 F, and leave it in the turkey about 20 minutes before removing and serving. Alternatively, you can bake your stuffing separately, in a casserole dish.
  6. When cooking the turkey, roast at at least 325°F. Place turkey breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. How long your turkey will take to roast will vary on how large it is. You can find a handy chart to give you an idea of what to expect here. Always cook your turkey to a safe internal temperature (165°F). You can check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. The USDA has a great 101 on kitchen thermometers here. Remember to the turkey rest about 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
  7. When reheating gravy for serving, bring it to a rolling boil.
  8. Clear the table and put leftover food in the fridge as soon as reasonably possible after eating, no more than 2 hours at the maximum. Food that remains out longer than this enters was food safety experts cal the "danger zone," where bacteria thrive (between 40 and 140 F). The quicker you get food cooled down, the safer it is. Smaller, shallow containers will help food cool faster in the fridge- try preportioning leftovers for guests to take home or for later meals. Keep an eye on your fridge temperature throughout the day- putting a lot of warm food in it at once may make the temps creep up.
  9. Freeze or eat your leftovers within four days. With food sitting out at meal time, this window gives you a safe time period in which to gobble up your leftovers or freeze them and save them for a taste of Thanksgiving later. Not only does freezing your food sooner help keep you healthy by slowing the growth of bacteria, but it helps preserve the flavors of your food better than fridge storage for a prolonged amount of time.
  10. And remember- follow your nose, follow your guts, and when in doubt, throw it out!
  11. If you've got last minute questions or dilemmas about Thanksgiving food safety or cooking, the USDA has a meat and poultry hotline that will be staffed 8am to 2pm on Thanksgiving day with food safety specialists. You can call toll free at 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854. You can also send an email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov. They are also available to help (in English and Spanish) weekdays 10am to 4pm.

Have a safe and happy holiday, everyone!

Suzanne Hogan

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