Experts discuss Thanksgiving food prep safety

If not handled and cooked properly, turkeys can cause foodborne illness. “Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking the turkey. Similarly, leaving leftovers out for too long, or not taking care to properly clean cooking and serving surfaces, can lead to other types of illness,” states a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to poultry-associated foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States. Ahead of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, experts provide a list of preparation tips to help keep families safe from illness.

“Unsafe handling and undercooking of food can lead to serious foodborne illness,” states a U.S. Department of Agriculture press release. “Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking the turkey. Similarly, leaving leftovers out for too long, or not taking care to properly clean cooking and serving surfaces, can lead to other types of illness. We want to be sure that all consumers know the steps they can take and resources that are available to them to help prepare a safe and enjoyable holiday meal. “

Turkey thawing

The CDC and USDA recommend thawing turkeys in the refrigerator, using the cold-water method or in the microwave. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the danger zone of temperatures between 40 and 140 degree, states a CDC release.

“Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave’s owner’s manual,” states the USDA release.

Handling food

To properly handle a turkey and other foods to prevent foodborne illness, the CDC recommends four steps: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean relates to keeping hands, utensils and surfaces clean to prevent spreading of pathogens. To keep surfaces and the person doing the meal prep safe, the CDC recommends the following:

• Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food and before eating.

• Wash utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water.

• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

Separate refers to keeping certain foods away from one another during meal preparation so there is less chance for cross-contamination. The CDC recommends the following:

• Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

• Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.

Cooking in terms of food safety refers to making sure food items, especially turkey, are cooked to the correct internal temperature. The following are recommended temperatures for varying food items:

• 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb;

• 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork;

• 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey; and

• 165°F for leftovers and casseroles.

Chill in food safety refers to knowing what temperature to keep your refrigerator at and when to throw away leftovers. Refrigerated foods, according to the CDC, should kept at 40 degrees or below. Perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours, states the CDC release.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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