If you’re concerned about Thanksgiving food safety, follow these key holiday food safety tips to keep your family safe this festive season.
Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips to Keep in Mind
As probably the biggest, and most prepared meal any household cooks for the whole year, Thanksgiving opens up a lot of opportunities for contamination and foodborne illness. Reduce the risk by following these food safety guidelines.
Shopping for Your Feast
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- Separate your shopping goods – Starting as soon as you enter the grocery store, separate your goods in the cart. Anything you buy raw, such as meat, poultry, and seafood, should be segregated and kept away from other foods. Contamination can spread via the meat juices that drip off the raw goods as they thaw. A good tip to follow is to buy the frozen meats last, so they don’t drip all over the cart as you do your shopping. Also, be attentive of the expiration dates on food labels.
- Buy your turkey at the right time – If you prefer shopping ahead, purchase a frozen turkey to prevent foodborne illness risks. However, if you like buying your turkey fresh, get your turkey two days before Thanksgiving dinner. Buying a fresh turkey too early will create an environment hospitable for bacteria — something you don’t want on the star dish of Thanksgiving.
- Drop the groceries off at home ASAP – While it’s reasonably tempting to stay outside after shopping to grab a quick snack, or run an errand or two, food should definitely not be left in your car for an extended period of time. Harmful microorganisms use this time to contaminate poultry and produce. It’s best to head straight home and store foods correctly: raw meat, seafood, and poultry in the freezer, produce in the fridge, and non-perishable items straight into the pantry.
Preparing Your Food
- Wash everything thoroughly – Wash everything you’ll be coming into contact with: dishes, cutlery, cookware — all of it. Most importantly, continuously wash and sterilize your hands. They’re going to come into contact with everything after all. Be careful and attentive when handling uncooked food. Also a prime frozen turkey food safety tip: remember to not wash the turkey (as well as raw meat and eggs). A food survey from the FDA shows that washing raw poultry with water only spreads the bacteria up to three feet away.
- Defrost safely – Let your meats defrost safely to reduce the risk of contamination. Three of the safest ways to defrost a whole turkey is 1.) in the refrigerator, with 24 hours of thawing for every 5 pounds of turkey, 2.) In cold water, with the turkey in its original wrapper, while replacing the water every 30 minutes, or 3.) the microwave, for last minute thawers. For early turkey thawers, keep in mind that it’s best to defrost in advance. A thawed turkey can be safely kept in the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a maximum of four days.
- Keep ingredients in the fridge as you prep – When you’ve finally planted yourself in the kitchen to start prepping your Thanksgiving meal, don’t bring every ingredient out all at once. Keep perishable ingredients in the fridge up until the moment you need them, to ensure maximum freshness, and to keep the pesky bacteria away.
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Cooking a Feast
- Cook food at the right temperature – Cook turkey and stuffing until it is 165° F all the way through. This is the safest temperature for a turkey. The only way to check if the temperature is accurate is to use a food thermometer. The temperature should be 165°F in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing. Be sure to thoroughly cook your vegetable dishes, as undercooking them may carry salmonella or E.coli, which poses an especially large risk to pregnant mothers.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold – Some foods are served hot, and some are served cold for a reason, so it’s best to let them stay that way. Other than retaining their best possible flavors, keeping foods in their respective temperatures also extend their freshness.
- Keep hot pots and other dishes out of your children’s reach – Children often mean well and want to help, but be sure to keep them far away from the stove. Hot pots can topple and spill their contents and cause serious burns and injuries to small children. Broken dishes can also spread shards to as far away as your living room, and find their way into the skin of an unsuspecting child. It helps to put down a nice, kid-friendly snack to keep them happily distracted.
- Always use clean and treated water for cooking – Raw water has been known to contain unsafe levels of minerals such as arsenic, as well as viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Contaminated water can carry and spread diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, and cholera. It’s best to err on the safe side: use and cook with only treated and distilled water.
What is dysentery? This is also referred to as severe diarrhea. This occurs when there is an infection of the intestine and there are blood and mucus in a person’s stool.
- Refrigerate, refrigerate, refrigerate – Put any uneaten food in the fridge within 2 hours to prevent bacterial growth. Use shallow containers to hasten cooling time, and lessening the time the food spends at a risky temperature (40°F to 140 °F). For storing the turkey meat, be sure to cut the meat off the bone, and refrigerate the stuffing in a separate container.
- Put foods into their own containers – It will be tempting to dump different foods into the same container to free up fridge space, but this only maximizes the risk of contamination. Invest in some great containers that all fit in the fridge or bring out the foil and cling wrap.
- Don’t leave leftovers in the fridge too long – Any Thanksgiving leftovers should be frozen, and consumed within the next 3 to 4 days. Gravy, however, should be consumed within 2 days.
Let this infographic be your guide. Download it now and use it as a reference later.
Whether you’re trying to practice these turkey cooking safety tips or trying to whip up some kid-approved Thanksgiving dishes, what’s important is to practice safe food preparation.
Make sure your prep area is always clean, and make sure everyone’s tummy is happy. You wouldn’t want anything ruining family time at Thanksgiving!
Do you have any Thanksgiving food safety tips to share with other moms? Let us know in the comments section!