Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, spending time with family, and enjoying some well-deserved holiday cheer. However, many people get terribly ill each year by eating foods that have not been correctly prepared or stored, or by eating foods which are spoiled. Foodborne illness and other forms of illness common during the Thanksgiving season can make your holiday time miserable. For the elderly, young, and those who are already ill, foodborne illnesses and other illnesses at this time of year can prove very dangerous or even fatal. Everyone has a responsibility to help make Thanksgiving safe. If you’re responsible for preparing or helping to prepare your family’s Thanksgiving feast this year, here are some tips from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make your holiday safe:
1) Check food recall information. Before going Thanksgiving food shopping, and after before you prepare your food, go online quickly and check to see whether any of the products that you will be using in preparing your feast are being recalled due to contamination with viruses, parasites, bacteria, or other contaminants. If you find that an item you have purchased has been recalled, return it to store promptly or dispose of it. Product liability issues are a major concern at this time of year, but you do not want to be involved in a legal action when you can simply dispose of a potentially unsafe item.
2) Keep foods that will be cooked and those that will be eaten raw separately. Foods that need to be cooked — such as chicken, turkey, all meats, seafood, and eggs — should be kept separate from foods that will be served fresh, such as fresh vegetables. The juices from uncooked meat, not to mention raw eggs, contain bacteria that can contaminate uncooked foods and make you very ill. When transporting these items from the grocery store, keep them separately. Keep them separately in your refrigerator, and clean all surfaces carefully after handling uncooked foods, especially meats.
3) Practice cleanliness. Carefully keeping everything clean is one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illnesses. Before you handle any food, and after you handle any raw meat, seafood, or raw eggs, wash your hands very thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. As you cook, wash all surfaces that have come into contact with uncooked food — this includes dishes, utensils, boards, and countertops. You should wash these items with hot, soapy water before you introduce a new ingredient or food item to the surface. Use a produce brush and cold water to wash your fruits and vegetables carefully, especially if you will be serving your fruits and vegetables fresh and uncooked.
4) Follow cooking directions carefully. Meat, especially, needs to be cooked to a specific internal temperature to ensure that all harmful bacteria in the product has been killed off. Use a food thermometer rather than checking on the color to determine whether a product is cooked correctly. An unstuffed turkey, for example, should have an internal temperature of 165°F. If you are cooking a stuffed turkey, wait until the stuffing reaches the same temperature before serving. If you are making eggnog or any recipes calling for raw eggs, use frozen and pasteurized egg products, powdered egg whites, or pasteurized eggs. This reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
5) Store leftovers correctly. All food products should be refrigerated within two hours. Make sure that your refrigerator is 40°F or below and your freezer is set to 0°F. If you have stored some food and it smells or looks spoiled, throw it out. The risk you are taking by eating the food is just not worth it.
6) Thaw frozen products correctly. A large Thanksgiving turkey may take a few days to thaw in a refrigerator, so start planning ahead accordingly. If you do not have several days to thaw, buy a fresh turkey instead. Do not thaw out poultry or other meat products at room temperature or under hot water running water. This method of thawing allows bacteria to thrive.