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Avoid food safety pitfalls at Thanksgiving

Posted: November 5, 2013 5:01 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2013 5:00 a.m.

By DEON LEGETTE

Special to the C-I

Avoid common pitfalls that can turn a festive Thanksgiving meal into a food borne illness disaster. Preparing and cooking a turkey safely can determine whether family and friends simply enjoy a delicious meal, or if they will end up with an unpleasant food borne illness. How leftovers are handled will also affect the health of those who will be finishing up the feast in the days afterward.

Many people may not know that unwashed hands cause most food borne illnesses. Simply washing one’s hands solves this problem. Remember:

• Always wash hands in hot, soapy water before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.

• Wash hands again after touching raw meat, poultry or seafood and before handling ready-to-eat foods.

• Use warm water to get your hands wet, add soap and rub hands together for 20 seconds before rinsing carefully.

Campylobacter jejuni are bacteria common in poultry that are easily killed by heat. Most people do not undercook poultry, so the likely way that C. jejuni cause illness is when kitchen equipment is used to prepare raw poultry and then not properly washed before preparing ready-to-eat foods. To reduce the options of cross-contamination:

• Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils and counter tops in hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next one.

• Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry or seafood and a different cutting board for ready-to-eat foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

• Sanitize cutting boards and other surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood.

To sanitize, immerse the item in a solution of 1 tablespoon liquid, unscented, chlorine bleach per gallon of warm, not hot, water and leave for several minutes. Plastic cutting boards can also be sanitized in a dishwasher using the wash and dry cycle.

• Sanitize a non-metal kitchen sponge by heating it while still wet in a microwave oven for one minute. Avoid burns by allowing the sponge to cool before using it. Or rinse and squeeze out sponge and put through the wash and dry cycle of a dishwasher.

• Use paper towels to clean up raw meat and poultry spills on kitchen counters and other surfaces, and to dry hands. If using cloth towels, do not reuse them if they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry juices until they have been washed in the hot cycle of the washing machine and dried in the dryer.

Bacteria can survive on foods that are not cooked properly. The color of meat and poultry does not show if it is safely cooked. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods and cook all poultry to at least 165° F. Also remember to:

• Make sure that the turkey is completely thawed before cooking. Allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey thawed in the refrigerator. A 20-pound turkey will take between 4 and 5 days to completely thaw in the refrigerator.

• Roast a turkey in a preheated oven set at 325° F. Cooking overnight at a low setting (200 to 250° F) is unsafe. Bacteria can easily grow under those conditions.

Promptly store leftovers to keep them out of temperatures where bacteria thrive. Also, don’t forget to:

• Set the temperature of the refrigerator between 34 and 36 °F when be adding a lot of leftovers to keep food at proper temperatures. Always keep a thermometer in the refrigerator. Make sure that the temperature in the refrigerator is no higher than 40 °F.

• Remove the stuffing from the turkey and carve the meat off the bones within two hours of cooking. Put leftovers in a shallow container, no more than two inches deep, to allow quick cooling. Never put a big pot of hot food in the refrigerator—it will take too long to cool down to safe temperatures.

• Store food in the refrigerator or freezer. It is best to use refrigerated leftovers within 4 days. If leftovers won’t be consumed in that amount of time, put them in the freezer where they will keep safely.

Any further food safety questions can be directed to Deon Legette, food safety/nutrition agent, at 432-9071 or visit the Clemson University Home & Garden Information Center website at http://hgic.clemson.edu.

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