November 21, 2007: Don’t be a Turkey! Remember Safe Food Handling Practices on Thanksgiving

Americans wait all year for Thanksgiving Dinner, a feast that in many families features turkey and all the trimmings. But a pleasant experience can turn into a health nightmare if food poisoning results from improper handling of holiday dishes and their ingredients. Whether you are feeding three or 30, preparing everything from scratch or purchasing dishes readymade, doing all the cooking yourself or hosting a potluck, it’s important to remember these food safety tips (with thanks to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture):

Clean: Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often.

Always wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards and other preparation surfaces, utensils, sponges, and counter tops, so they should also be washed with soap and water.

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate.

Keep bacteria from spreading from one food product to another, especially if you are cooking with raw meat, poultry and seafood. Keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Use different cutting boards for raw meat or poultry and other foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables. Be sure to keep raw turkey separate from side dishes.

Cook: Cook food to proper temperatures.

Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to determine temperature. In the case of turkey, every part and the center of the stuffing should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F.

Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.

Refrigerating foods quickly keeps most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40° F and freezers at 0° F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer. Perishable foods should not be left sitting out at room temperature longer than two hours, and should be discarded after that time.

The food safety tips provided above should be followed all year round, but on Thanksgiving it’s also important to remember these precautions:

  • Make sure to buy only government-inspected turkeys and always check the “sell by” date.
  • Do not thaw frozen turkey at room temperature; thaw turkey in cold water, in the refrigerator or in the microwave. If thawing in water or microwave, cook immediately after thawing.
  • Leftover turkey meat should be refrigerated promptly, apart from stuffing, and eaten within three to four days; turkey meat can be frozen. Remember to reheat leftovers thoroughly to 165° F.
  • Never eat anything that looks or smells strange: When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information about proper turkey handling and cooking, please see the following Fact Sheet put together by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA:

The Law Offices of Eric H. Weinberg wish one and all a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday! For more information about our firm, please visit Food Poisoning Lawyer.

For information on recent food poisoning outbreaks, please see New Jersey Food Poisoning Lawyer, and Ohio Food Poisoning Lawyer.