Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

The more hands and foods involved, the higher the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Fortunately, today, we know much more about proper hygiene.

As the fall season winds down and the holidays approach, one thing is for certain, we will all be overindulging and fake smiling when we see our least favorite family member – probably Aunt Linda – walk in the door, even if it’s the only time we see her all year.

While the holidays are a time for reminiscing and reminding us of what we are thankful for – like only seeing Aunt Linda once a year, it also is a time when copious amounts of cooking, and people helping cook, is at its peak.

The more hands and foods involved, the higher the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Fortunately, today, we know much more about proper hygiene, food handling and preparation to combat these harrowing outbreaks.

Now let’s not overreact, I’m not saying if you don’t follow proper food safety practice that you will become ill, but it will certainly mitigate the risk. I mean let’s be honest, there were no documented cases of food poisoning in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared their autumn feast, better known now as Thanksgiving.

So now let me tell you how to safely prepare and cook your turkey… just don’t ask me for a recipe since my family ended up eating at Denny’s last year when I cooked. Apparently turkey shouldn’t have the consistency of beef jerky? Whatever.

First off: Wash your hands! Just because there isn’t an “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” sticker in your bathroom, doesn’t mean you’re exempt from doing so. Why is this important? Well because: The CDC estimates washing our hands can:

  • Reduce the risk of diarrhea by 31%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in those with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Reduce respiratory illness by 16-21%

Now I know you want to play Scattergories or go over to that girls’ house from high school you saw on Wednesday night who now looks great – granted you saw her after midnight but hey, how are you going to know for sure if you’re running to the bathroom every 5 minutes? Exactly! Just wash them, pal.

Now that we’ve washed our hands, let’s focus our attention on safely preparing and cooking that turkey in 4 easy steps!

  • Safely thaw your turkey – but how do you do that?
    1. Well, the standard approach is to let it thaw in your refrigerator OR you can let it sit in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. But give me a break, who wants to do that?
    2. The CDC states that a turkey should be kept at a constant temperature of 39 degrees or below because: “When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature can creep into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.”
  • Safely handling your turkey
    1. This goes back to washing your hands – especially when coming into contact with raw poultry. Also, wash utensils and other surfaces that have come into contact prior to the bird being cooked to mitigate the risk of contamination.
  • Stuffing your turkey
    1. We all love stuffing, if you don’t, well, don’t talk to me. However, it’s important to cook your stuffing prior to baking your turkey. Upon final prep, its paramount you use a food thermometer to ensure the stuffing and center of the turkey has reached 165 F. Otherwise, you’re at risk of contracting a foodborne illness, like Campylobacter – and if you can’t pronounce it (like me), you can’t afford to be inflicted by it.
  • Safely cooking your whole turkey
    1. First set your oven temperature at 325 F
    2. Place the turkey breast-side up in a roasting pan
    3. Cook time depends on the weight of each turkey but you want to ensure it is again at 165 F when done – use a thermometer, please. Don’t just “eye it”.
    4. Once the internal temperature is properly established – you’re ready to eat!

As you can see, it’s not terribly difficult to adhere to proper food safety practices. Now that we know how to properly cook our Thanksgiving turkey, it’s time for us to start looking forward to the holidays and shopping for that perfect bird – but first, does anyone have a coupon…?