As Thanksgiving approaches, you likely anticipate a huge feast and time spent with those who matter most. While many of us tend to eat too much turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie this time of year, the result is typically nothing more than minor discomfort. Some folks, however, actually get sick from the foods they eat.
That’s why a Vanderbilt dietitian says it’s vital you make sure the food you serve is prepared and stored properly. These safety measures will ensure a safer and healthier holiday for everyone. After all, improper handling of foods can cause foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates to cause one million illnesses and nearly 400 deaths every year.
“Nobody is thankful about food that ends up making them sick,” says Vanderbilt University Medical Center dietitian and certified personal trainer Jessica Bennett. “But with some simple steps, foodborne illness can be kept away from the Thanksgiving table.”
Bennett recommends the following “10 Tips for Safe Food”:
- Turkey should be thawed properly in the refrigerator, 24 hours for every five pounds. Don’t thaw the turkey on the counter or outdoors, and avoid placing it where juices could drip on other foods.
- It’s safer to cook stuffing in its own dish outside of the turkey. If you are going to use it to stuff the turkey, make sure it is heated to 165 degrees F.
- In general, all raw meats should be kept separated from foods that are not cooked, such as raw fruits and vegetables, and all fruits and vegetables should be washed with cool water.
- Use a dedicated cutting board for meats to avoid cross contamination, and be sure to wash utensils and cutting boards well.
- Wash hands before and after handling food to avoid cross contamination. Make sure any kitchen helpers wash their hands, too.
- Before serving, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Store leftovers within two hours. Stay away from the temperature danger zone: bacteria grow quickly between 40 and 140 degrees F.
- If traveling, also remember to keep foods outside the temperature danger zone. Don’t overload coolers, and make sure ice is around the food.
- When you arrive at your destination with food, be sure to reheat it to 165 degrees F. before serving. That also goes for leftovers at home.
- Eat leftovers within three-four days, and reheat them to at least 165 degrees F. When in doubt throw it out. Smelling food does not determine safety because spoiled food doesn’t always smell bad.
Here is another big one. FoodSafety.gov recommends that you wash your hands, but not the turkey. Do not rinse the bird or even let water splash on it. Getting water on the turkey can cause cross-contamination, increasing your risk of spreading bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
Those are the best ways to ensure a healthy holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I appreciate you!