Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips (brought to by NSF):
Begin with a clean kitchen and keep it clean and sanitized throughout the food prep process to prevent foodborne illness.
1. Sanitize your dishcloths or sponges on a regular basis, or use disposable cloths: A contaminated dishcloth can house millions of bacteria after a few hours of use. In fact, an NSF Germ Study found that the kitchen dish rag /sponge are the germiest items in the home.
Since Thanksgiving is a busy day in the kitchen and it may be hard to keep track of dishcloth use, consider using paper towels to clean up and throw them away immediately. Wash all food prep surfaces with hot soapy water, rinse and sanitize (use 1 cap bleach per gallon of water or other sanitizer as recommended by the manufacturer).
2. Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly:
- immediately after handling raw turkey (or any raw meat/poultry or fish), using plenty of warm water and soap.
- Given that the holidays occur during cold and flu season, make sure that any guests who come into the kitchen to help wash their hands as well to avoid the spread of germs and illness. For advice on how to properly wash your hands visit www.scubclub.org
3. Don’t let uncooked turkey sit at room temperature. Shop for a turkey last and get it home and refrigerated promptly. Bag the turkey separately and place it below other food in the refrigerator.
4. Don’t attempt to thaw a frozen turkey quickly by leaving it sit overnight on a kitchen counter. Use one of the following methods:
- Option I – Refrigerator Method. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. It may take several days for a large turkey to thaw (plan for a thawing time of 4 – 5 hours per pound of turkey). A turkey that has been thawed in this way can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.
- Option II – Cold Water Thawing. Allow about 30 minutes per pound. Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
- Option III – Microwave Thawing. Since microwave oven performance varies, check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping and place the turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving, a turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.
5. Don’t wash your turkey. There’s no need to wash your turkey before your cook it. If you do, bacteria from raw poultry can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. In fact, countertops and cutting boards were among the most common household items to contain Salmonella and other bacteria. Proper cooking will kill bacteria.
- If you choose to rinse your turkey, such as after brining, be very careful about splashing water and disinfect your sink and all other nearby surfaces thoroughly afterwards.
6. Never place an uncooked turkey directly on the counter; keep it on a platter or in a roaster. Clean and sanitize the counter as well as any dishes or utensils that came into contact with raw turkey or its juices.
7. Use a thermometer to check for doneness, even if the turkey has a pop-up timer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast. When the temperature reaches 165° F at all three locations, the turkey should be done.
8. For optimum safety, don’t stuff your turkey. Since it’s difficult to cook stuffing evenly when it’s packed inside a turkey, consider cooking stuffing in a separate casserole dish. If you do choose to stuff, wait to do so until right before putting the turkey in the oven. Use only pre-cooked meats and vegetables in the stuffing mixture, pack the stuffing loosely, and cook the stuffing until it reaches at least 165° F at the center.
9. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers immediately. Large portions should be separated into smaller containers and covered loosely to speed cooling.
10. Properly reheat before you eat: Any pre-cooked dishes as well as leftovers need to be reheated to 165 degrees in order to kill any looming bacteria. Microwave ovens tend to heat food unevenly; keeping food loosely covered allows heat to better circulate throughout food. Use a food thermometer and check the temperature in multiple locations to make sure no cold spots are left. Refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy should be eaten within 3 to 4 days.
General Food Safety Tips:
Shopping and Preparing for side dishes
- General: Shop for nonperishable items first, such as canned and dry goods.
Tip: Buy refrigerated, frozen foods and hot deli items last – right before checkout.
- Canned & Boxed Goods: Check the condition of canned and vacuum-packed foods. If the packaging is swollen or there are signs of moisture or leakage, do not purchase or use the product. Boxes should not have any rips, tears or punctures.
Tip: If there are any signs of damage, moisture or leakage, do not buy the product.
- Produce Purchasing: Check fresh produce carefully and avoid items that appear damaged or bruised. Fresh cut produce for sale should be refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
- Produce Preparation: Wash fresh fruits and vegetables with cool tap water before peeling or cutting. Do not use soap or detergents, as these may leave harmful residues. Refrigerate unused produce within two hours of peeling or cutting.
Tip: Be sure wash your sink well before placing any fruit or veggies in the sink.
- Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Look for meat packages that are cool to the touch and have no punctures. Select meat and other perishable products just before checking out. Put raw meat packages in plastic bags so juices will not drip onto other foods, and keep them away from other grocery items in your cart (as well as at home) to avoid cross contamination.
Tip: Pack raw meats in a cooler if it will take more than an hour to get them home. When taking them out of the bags and placing on the counter, be sure to wash and sanitize your counter and sponge immediately after. One third of households tested in NSF’s Germ Study had Coliform bacteria on their countertops, which can easily lead to cross contamination if the surface is not properly sanitized.
- Online/Mail Order Food Safety: If ordering food online, order from a reputable company and make sure the food you receive is properly packed with a cold source such as an ice pack or dry ice to maintain a safe temperature. If perishable food arrives too warm (above 40°F as measured with a food thermometer), notify the company and do not consume the food.
Tip: Make sure you can retrieve any food you order for delivery in time to get it into proper storage while it is still at a safe temperature.
- Prepared Dinners: If you order a holiday dinner from your local market or specialty store, the most important thing to check for is proper cooling and storage. One sign that food has not been properly cooled is excessive condensation on the lid. Once you get your meal home, keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it (and do not run errands all over town with the prepared dinner in the back seat!). Food should be re-heated from refrigeration temperatures to 165°F within two hours.
Packing up the leftovers
- Make sure to refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of purchase or preparation. If the temperature is above 90° F, reduce the time frame to 1 hour.
- Check to make sure your refrigerator temperature is set at 40° F to discourage the growth of food borne bacteria.
- When packaging leftovers for cold storage, it’s important to reduce the internal temperature quickly to discourage bacterial growth. Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator, but make sure to divide large quantities of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling.
- Cooked foods can usually be stored in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days or in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Most side dishes can also be frozen, although those containing cream sauces may become lumpy when frozen and reheated.
One lucky Bragging Mommy Reader will win a Holiday Cooking Prize Pack! It includes: (NSF Certified) Turkey Roasting Pan, (NSF Certified) Meat Thermometer, (NSF Certified) Tupperware, Matching Dishcloth and Kitchen Towel Set.
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