JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather over a variety of fall delicacies and reflect about what to be thankful for during the past year. However, there is one thing often overlooked, food safety. By practicing simple food handling procedures such as proper cooking and storing of food items, foodborne illness can be prevented.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one in six Americans (about 48 million people total) get sick from foodborne contamination annually; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die throughout a year. Many of these cases can be avoided if proper food safety procedures are followed. Proper food storage, thawing, preparation and cooking are the important food safety procedures to avoid causing illness.
Thanksgiving dinner begins at the store when shopping for the ingredients for a successful feast. Do you want to buy your turkey well in advance? If so, get one already frozen and keep it frozen until it is time to thaw. If time is not on your side, purchasing a turkey at least two days prior to your dinner is recommended. If you choose to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, it is recommended that for every four to five pounds the turkey must sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours to properly thaw completely (i.e. a 20 lb. turkey must thaw for 48 hrs.). When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator it is advised that it be placed in a pan still wrapped in original packaging. This prevents possible cross contamination of other food stored in the same refrigerator. Another way to thaw a turkey is to keep it in the original packaging and place it under cool running water for 30 minutes per pound. If keeping your water continuously running is not ideal, then fully submerge the turkey in cool water changing the water every 30 minutes. Ensure the turkey is fully thawed before cooking.
Now it's time to cook - what are the steps to take before you begin? First and foremost is sanitation. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands using soap and hot water while scrubbing for at least 20 seconds and drying hands with disposable towels. Ensure your work area, including food contact surfaces, are clean and sanitized. Lastly, avoid using the same cutting board for produce and meats. If necessary, wash/sanitize the cutting board thoroughly between each food product.
If you want to deep fry the turkey, please, please don't drop it in the oil still frozen! This could lead to a massive explosion possibly causing bodily harm to people and pets in the area. Use one of the thawing methods provided above before frying any turkey.
If you are cooking a turkey in the oven, preheat the oven to 325°F. Again, be sure the turkey is fully thawed before placing it in the oven. Insert the thermometer in a spot that will present an accurate internal temperature. For example, sticking the thermometer in a breast or any other thick meaty area will provide an accurate reading. The amount of time to cook the turkey depends on its weight. Cooking stuffing inside a turkey is not recommended. To ensure more even cooking, it is recommended that the stuffing be cooked outside of the bird in a casserole dish. A good rule of thumb to know when the turkey is fully cooked is when the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Food should be stored as leftovers two hours after being served if not being held with proper hot or cold holding equipment such as Crock-Pots or coolers. We all love enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers but, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), leftovers should only be kept for three days after being stored. Also, the USDA recommends all leftovers be reheated to 165°F internal temperature.
Thanksgiving is time to reconnect with family and friends while enjoying a good feast. In order to enjoy the meal after eating, remember to follow proper food safety procedures to avoid causing a foodborne illness and possibly ruining a special holiday.
For further information and questions, contact the JBCHS Public Health Office at (843) 963-6958 or (843) 963-6962. You can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) who will be available on Thanksgiving Day from 0800-1400. Gobble Gobble, Happy Thanksgiving!