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Prevent Foodborne Illness This Holiday Season

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

For many Oklahomans, Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow are opportunities to visit friends and family while enjoying homemade foods. To prevent foodborne illness from spoiling the festivities, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) encourages holiday cooks to pay special attention to the handling, preparation, and cooking of foods during the upcoming holiday season.

Holidays present unique food safety challenges, so cooks should plan ahead to ensure that holiday foods are safe. People at the highest risk of being affected by foodborne illness are the elderly, children, individuals with a weakened immune system, and pregnant women. Persons in these high-risk groups should be especially mindful of potential foodborne illness.

The OSDH suggests the following food safety tips to enjoy your holiday season:

Clean: Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food and wash food-contact surfaces often. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate and let bacteria cross from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep raw meats and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods such as uncooked fruits and vegetables.

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Cook: Cook foods to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry and egg dishes, to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40?F and the freezer at 0?F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked often with a thermometer.

Tips for Preparing Turkey

Thawing: Fresh and frozen turkeys are equally safe as long as they are correctly handled and stored. It is important to allow enough time for a frozen turkey to defrost. If a turkey is not properly thawed, the outside will be cooked before the inside. When this happens, the inside might not become hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria.

There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, the microwave oven, and submerging in cold water. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. If thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes defrosting per pound of turkey and change the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water keeps the turkey cold, slowing bacterial growth in the outer thawed portions while the inner areas are still thawing. When using a microwave, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of minutes per pound and the appropriate power level to use for thawing.

Cooking: Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the correct internal temperature is reached. The thigh is the best place to insert the thermometer. When the thigh reaches 180?F, it is safe to assume that the rest of the bird has reached the bacteria-killing temperature of 165?F. A thermometer should be used even in turkeys that have "pop-up" temperature indicators to ensure a safe temperature of 165?F. The most reliable way to cook stuffing is separate from the turkey. If you choose to stuff the turkey, it must reach an internal temperature of 165?F before it is safe to eat. When the turkey is done, remember to check the stuffing with a meat thermometer to make sure it has reached the proper temperature.

Safe handling of leftovers: Put prepared foods and leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours. Split leftovers into small, shallow containers that will cool quickly in the refrigerator. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days, and gravy within one to two days. Gravy should be reheated to a boil. Other leftovers should be thoroughly reheated to 165?F.