TAMPA (WFLA) — Next week, millions of people across the country will celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. While COVID-19 is still top of mind, it’s not the only unwelcome visitor at the dinner table this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it is also important to keep loved ones safe from foodborne illnesses. By following the tips below, you’ll lessen the chances of foodborne illness.
Clean and sanitize
The USDA says you should always wash your hands before preparing or handling food. This can help prevent the spread of germs. You should also clean and sanitize any surfaces that food may touch. This includes tabletops, kitchen counters, stoves, and sinks.
According to recent USDA observational research, 95% of participants failed to properly wash their hands before handling food.
The USDA says you should not wash your turkey in the sink because it may leave behind unwanted germs. In one study, the department found 60% of kitchen sinks contaminated after participants washed or rinsed their poultry.
If you do wash your turkey in the sink, make sure to clean and sanitize afterward by rubbing down surfaces with soap and hot water. Then, sanitize with a cleaning solution to remove any residual germs. The USDA recommends letting surfaces air dry. You should also use separate cutting boards; one for meat and another for fruit and vegetables.
When cooking your turkey, make sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F. The USDA says you should use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature in three parts: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh.
All previously cooked side dishes should also be reheated to 165°F.
Stuffing the turkey
The USDA does not recommend stuffing your turkey. It can be a breeding ground for bacteria if it is not properly prepared. However, if you do plan to stuff your turkey, keep the following in mind:
- The wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing should be prepared separately from each other and refrigerated until ready to use.
- Stuff the turkey loosely. Use about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
- Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325°F.
- Let the cooked turkey stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing.
The two-hour rule
All perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours of them being cooked, or one hour if the temperature is 90°F or above, the USDA says. After two hours, perishable food enter the “danger zone,” which is where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe.
Separate larger portions of leftovers into small, shallow containers and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Leftovers can be safely stored in a refrigerator for up to four days. Leftovers placed in the freezer can be safely frozen indefinitely but will keep the best quality for two to six months.