How to Have the Safest Thanksgiving: Preventing Food Poisoning

Dylan momWhat good is it to spend three days cooking a beautiful Thanksgiving meal if your entire family comes down with food poisoning? If you’re not careful, unsafe food handling can turn the dream holiday dinner into a nightmare. Salmonella bacteria from uncooked poultry can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Make sure to follow these food safety tips when getting the turkey to the dinner table. You want your family to remember this Thanksgiving because of your delicious turkey, not because of a trip to the emergency room.

  • Be a clean machine. Wash everything — your hands, cutting boards, utensils and countertops — with hot, soapy water, before and after handling your raw turkey.
  • Keep things separate. Even in your hurry to get the big dinner underway, keep the raw turkey — including the juice — from coming in contact with the other parts of your feast. Make sure you disinfect the countertops if any turkey or juice touches the kitchen surfaces.
  • Know your stuffing. Stuffing is often just as important to your family as the turkey, but it can also breed bacteria if you don’t do it right. Remember:
    • Don’t stuff your turkey until it’s completely thawed.
    • Don’t use raw eggs (or other raw ingredients) in stuffing; use pasteurized egg products (found in the dairy case), instead.
    • Use moist stuffing, not dry; heat kills bacteria faster in moist environment.
    • Stuff your turkey loosely and put it in the oven immediately. (Don’t stuff it ahead of time and refrigerate it.) Or, better yet, cook and serve your stuffing in a separate casserole dish.
    • When the turkey is done, remove the stuffing immediately, before carving and serving the turkey.
  • Check the temperature. Don’t cook your turkey at temperatures any lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you start cooking — keep cooking! No partial cooking, refrigerating, then cooking more later. You’ll be providing bacteria with an ideal haven for growth.
  • Play by the numbers. When it comes to turkey doneness, don’t rely on your eyesight or those plastic pop-ups. Invest in a meat thermometer and measure first in the thigh, which should be at least 180 degrees. Then check other spots, including the wing joint; they should measure at least 160 degrees. The stuffing should be at least 165 degrees.
  • Store those leftovers right. Put food away within two hours of cooking and store in shallow containers. Eat up that turkey and stuffing within three to four days, gravy in one to two days.

Helpful resources

  • Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing – information from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) about safe thawing methods
  • Ask Karen from USDA – a mobile app that provides answers to food safety questions
  • Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line – staffed by experts to answer questions about cooking turkey safely

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD

Categories: Weekly Health Tips, Food Safety

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