Don’t wing it – follow expert advice from the health department to safely prepare and cook your Thanksgiving feast and avoid food borne illnesses.
“When you’re rushing to get a big holiday meal on the table, it’s easy to make a mistake or take a shortcut that could cause your guests to become ill,” said Sherlita Amler, MD, Commissioner of Health. “Follow our safe food handling and cooking tips and your guests will remember their visit and the meal for all the right reasons.”
Frequent hand washing by the chef is the key to safe food handling.
“Remember to thoroughly wash your hands between the preparation of uncooked poultry and ready to serve foods,” said Peter DeLucia, Assistant Commissioner of Public Health Protection. “Preparing a safe and healthy Thanksgiving meal is not an easy task for even the most seasoned of chefs, so residents should follow these six tips to ensure a safe and happy holiday meal.”
- Thaw – Allow at least two to three days to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. To eliminate any chance of cross contamination, don’t place thawing turkey or any raw meat, (even if commercially wrapped), in a spot where it could drip on fresh fruit and vegetables that won’t be cooked before serving. Never defrost a turkey by leaving it out at room temperature.
- Separate and Prepare – Bacteria on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. Use different cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and veggies. Keep the raw turkey away from vegetables and side dishes that won’t be cooked. Wash hands, surfaces, and utensils often to avoid spreading bacteria when preparing food.
- Stuff – To avoid under cooked stuffing that can cause a food borne illness, bake stuffing separately in a shallow pan, where it can quickly reach 165°F. Many food borne outbreaks have been caused by stuffed, roasted turkey. That’s because it takes a long time for heat to penetrate deep into the cavity, so bacteria can survive inside the bird.
- Cook –Turkeys should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. How long it will take to reach this temperature will vary significantly depending on oven temperature, temperature fluctuation and turkey weight. It’s essential to have a 0 to 220 degree probe thermometer at home to accurately measure food temperature. To be safe, take the turkey’s temperature by inserting the probe thermometer deep into the meat.
- Properly Cool Leftovers – Improper cooling practices are one of the most frequent causes of food borne illness. Leftover turkey, stuffing, etc., needs to be refrigerated within two hours. If you prepare foods in advance such as soups and stocks, make sure to cool them in the refrigerator, uncovered in shallow pans. They can then be transferred to large covered vessels after reaching refrigerator temperature. Be sure not to pack your refrigerator with leftovers so tightly that the cool air can’t do its job. The rule of thumb is to avoid filling containers with food deeper than four inches and then stacking multiple containers upon each other. Once the food is cooled to under 45°F it‘s safe to stack away!
- Reheat – Leftovers, including turkey meat, stuffing and stock should be reheated to at least 165°F before serving.
For more food preparation safety tips, go to www.westchestergov.com/health, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wchealthdept or follow us on Twitter @wchealthdept. The health department can be reached at (914) 813-5000.