Food Safety First This Thanksgiving

By Heather Hubbs, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - On average, more than 700 million pounds of turkey is consumed on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, not to mention all the fixings that go with it. The last thing you want is for one of your guests to get sick after dinner from eating food that wasn't prepared properly.

Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee Dietician Judy Fitzgibbons recommends you keep four things in mind when preparing your meal.

Clean: Wash all your produce thoroughly before cooking, but don't wash your turkey as it can splash bacteria around your kitchen. Be sure to wash your hands constantly while cooking, especially when moving from one food to another.

Separate: Keep your cooked and uncooked , hot and cold foods separate to avoid cross-contamination. Have a separate cutting board for produce and raw meats.

Cook: A thermometer is a cook's best friend on Thanksgiving. Cook your turkey and stuffing inside the turkey to at least 165 degrees. Make sure your gravy and casseroles are cooked to a boil.

Chill: Chill leftover food within two hours of meal time. Leftovers are good for 3 to 4 days. If you don't plan on eating leftovers right away, put it directly in the freezer. Make sure you reheat food to a boil to kill bacteria.

Turkey Basics: Safely Thaw, Prepare, Stuff, and Cook

When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to the adequate temperature.

Safe Thawing
Did You Know?

Clostridium perfringens is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning
Outbreaks occur most often in November and December
Meat and poultry accounted for 92% of outbreaks with an identified single food source
Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.

Food Thermometer Truths

Always use a food thermometer to guarantee that foods are cooked to a safe-to-eat temperature.
Some food thermometers must be calibrated to ensure that they read food temperature accurately. Find out if your thermometer can be calibrated.
Calibrate your food thermometer by following these steps:

Fill a pot with distilled water and bring to a rolling boil.
Hold the thermometer probe in the boiling water for one minute. Do not let the probe touch the pot.
After one minute, the thermometer should read between 210° and 214° F. If it does not, adjust the thermometer manually to 212° F. If the thermometer cannot be adjusted manually do not use it until it is serviced by a professional.

Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the "danger zone."

There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven.

Safe Preparation

Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.

Safe Stuffing

For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness. Follow the FSIS' steps to safely prepare, cook, remove, and refrigerate stuffing.

Safe Cooking

Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. For more information on safe internal temperatures, visit FoodSafety.gov's Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures.
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