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Will You Make These Food Mistakes This Holiday Season?

Tim Boyer's picture
Common holiday food mistakes in the kitchen

Would you lick a raw turkey? Maybe not intentionally or even during a double-dog dare, but Today show co-host Matt Lauer essentially did exactly that in this video. Find out what other holiday food mistakes you could be making this Thanksgiving season.


According to a recent episode of Today, co-host Matt Lauer made one of the biggest cooking blunders a person can make in the kitchen—touching raw meat and then putting his fingers in his mouth without having had washed his hands.

Viewers took note of his blunder and made sure that he was put to task for his gaffe as shown in the video below:

However, he is not the first or the last to make meal prep mistakes on TV. Even the revered Julia Child has been known to dabble in potential food poisoning as shown in this video that health experts all agree is big no-no—washing your chicken before baking it in the oven:

All video fun aside from these kitchen blunders, food poisoning in the home is a serious problem. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, some 48 million people become sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

So what can you do to keep yourself and your family from becoming another CDC statistic? According to Londa Nwadike, a food safety specialist at Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, here are five food handling mistakes she provided for NBC to help viewers have a safer holiday:

Food handling mistake #1: Not washing your hands during meal prep

Touching raw meat seems like a no-brainer, but did you know that those chicken eggs in the carton can be even more contaminated than the raw chicken? It’s true with salmonella and listeria being the most common and lethal germs on that egg’s surface.

According to Ms. Nwadike, the best way to get rid of the germs is to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cleaning between your fingers and under the nails. However, it’s the best measure few actually do.

"It's pretty common that people don't wash their hands properly," Nwadike said, adding that home cooks may think it's OK to wipe their hands on a towel or run them under water quickly. "To get all the germs off, you need to do the full washing with soap, running water and drying them."

Food handling mistake #2: Undercooking your food

Testing the doneness of your meat is best performed with a meat thermometer rather than your eyes and judgment.

"Color is not a good indicator of doneness, particularly with ground meats," says Ms. Nwadike. "If you're cooking a hamburger, if it's brown in the middle, that doesn't necessarily mean it's cooked all the way to the proper temperature."
For example:

• Ground meat mixtures containing beef, pork, veal or lamb need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit

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• Turkey and chicken: 165 degrees Fahrenheit

• Fresh beef, pork, veal and lamb: 145 degrees, with a 3-minute rest

And, if you are using a relatively old meat thermometer, bear in mind that the temp designations for each meat type may be outdated. Do yourself and your family a favor and replace the old thermometer with a new one, or compare its values with those recommended by the FDA.

Food handling mistake #3: Thawing food incorrectly

Thawing should always be done in either the microwave (and then cooked right away), in a bowl of cold water that’s changed every 30 minutes, or in the fridge. The reason for this is that it prevents unequal thawing on the outside of the meat that can allow bacteria to grow while you are still waiting for the inside to thaw.

"Bacteria can multiply really rapidly if you're thawing food on a counter or in your sink," Nwadike said.

Food handling mistake #4: Cross contamination

Reusing plates, utensils or cutting boards that have held raw meat, poultry and seafood is another common mistake that can potentially contaminate cooked or ready-to-eat food. For example, using the same spatula to transfer a patty from the grill to the plate that is used for flipping burgers while cooking is a good way to cross contaminate your cooked patty, your plate and your stomach.

One easy solution for avoiding accidental cross contamination is to use color-coded cutting boards and utensils.

Food handling mistake #5: Ignoring the 2-hour rule

The rule of thumb is that nothing should be left out for more than 2 hours before storing away in the fridge. Especially perishable foods like dairy products, cooked meat, eggs and raw cut produce.

"If you know something's been left out for more than two hours, the safest thing is to throw it away because you don't want people getting sick from it," says Ms. Nwadike who also tells people that when it comes to food safety, those extra measures can mean a lot. "Even if it does take that little extra bit of time or effort, it is worth it in terms of not seeing a loved one or yourself getting sick, or even worse."

For more about holiday food and eating, here is an informative article on 10 must-have supplements to make your Thanksgiving more enjoyable.

Reference: NBC TodayYou can't judge meat by its color and 4 other common food handling mistakes