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Thanksgiving is upon us folks. In just a few short days we will be gathering with family, catching up on the past year or so with new stories, commenting on how everyone (especially the children) has grown, and most importantly, eating. And Thanksgiving Food Poisoning is a real concern on this holiday.
If you cannot guess, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Not just because of all the yummy goodness ready to be consumed (I am a foodie after all), but because it is a time to see family and reflect on all of the good things in life. We could spend a lot of time together talking about the good things in our lives but that will be for another time.
Whenever you have a group of people, a large amount of food, and sometimes a small house to pack it all in; there are bound to be food safety issues that need to be addressed. You don’t want for the day to be remembered by everyone getting sick. Let’s take a few minutes together and talk about a few tips to make our Thanksgiving this year safer. After all, what is an amazing meal without thinking about food safety first?
When we think about Thanksgiving, the Turkey is the first food that comes to mind. As the centerpiece of the dining experience, what you decide to do with your turkey and how you plan on cooking it this year is up to you. Before you attempt any cooking though, take the time to read up. If you’re going to try a new cooking method make sure you follow any safety methods too. There are, hewer, a few tips that surround all turkey preparation no matter the method:
Thaw. The rule of thumb is to allow about 24 hours of thaw time for each 4 to 5 pounds. Make sure you adjust your schedule and allow multiple days for bigger birds. Remember to use a pan so the thawing juices don’t drip onto other food in the refrigerator.
Handle. Raw poultry can have bacteria growing on it and remembering to handle it carefully will keep it from spreading. Oh, and don’t forget – you don’t need to wash it!
Using the 4 steps to food safety method not only applies here but in all cooking adventures:
Clean – Wash your hands and surfaces before preparing food.
Separate – Keep food separated to avoid cross-contamination.
Cook – Cook food to the correct temperature to ensure bacteria removal.
Chill – Refrigerate food immediately after eating.
The Stuffing. Personally, I’m not a fan of cooking stuffing in the turkey but to-each-their-own. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, make sure you cook the turkey first THEN place it inside the turkey right before serving to avoid bacteria spreading. By cooking both separately, you ensure the stuffing is free of nasty bacteria like Salmonella.
Cooking. This one will vary depending on the size of your bird so make sure you follow correct cooking procedures. Using a food thermometer is important to ensure the inside of the turkey is cooking at the right temperature. Foodsafety.gov has put together a chart that can be used for all types of cooking and appropriate temperatures. Print one out and stick it on your refrigerator, I did.
If Thanksgiving has taught me anything about food, it is that there are as many dishes as there are different likes and dislikes. I’m not a fan of cranberry sauce but my wife loves it. There is the debate over gravy and green bean casserole. What is the best wine to serve? You get the picture.
In order to sum everything up no matter what you cook, I want to relate a story from my childhood. First let me say that I miss my grandmother dearly and am thankful for the years I was fortunate to spend with her … she is my hero.
When I was young, Thanksgiving was always spent at my grandparents’ house. I come from a large family so people would be in and out all day; visiting, eating, sleeping, and eating again. Due to the colder temperatures of that time of year, food was covered and stored on the screened-in back porch all day. When someone wanted to eat they would take a plate to the back porch and grab whatever they wanted then come in and warm it up. Did you catch it? Everything was left outside.
Now that we know better, this practice is never a good idea. Temperature fluctuations can cause bacteria to grow without us even knowing it. Never leave food – whatever dish it is – outside. Always use the refrigerator to store leftovers.
As mentioned, storage is just as important as the presentation. There are a few tips when putting Thanksgiving leftovers away that also apply to all food:
In my house, I am the only one who likes leftovers so I consider myself lucky. This also gives me the opportunity to make sure they are put away correctly so I can enjoy them at a later time.
This year, when we are in the trenches, eating and visiting and laughing, remembering loved ones and seeing new ones, and taking that ever-needed nap; think about the ones who prepared your Thanksgiving dinner. Take a minute to thank them for their expertise in keeping you safe.
If you are the one preparing the meal for your family, let me say to you: thank you. Let me also remind you to take food safety seriously and prepare accordingly. By following simple yet important guidelines, you can deliver a wonderful yet safe spread. Your family will love you for it.
As I am so fond of saying, knowledge is our best weapon against food poisoning. By understanding the pitfalls of food and bacteria we are more aware and better equipped to make meals that leave us happy and not ill. Lets kick Thanksgiving Food Poisoning to the curb!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and stay safe.
By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)