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Taking extra care with the holiday food safety

Staff Reports

As families and friends gather around the table to stuff their faces with stuffing, casseroles, sweet potatoes, pies and other family recipes, the biggest dish on the table may be the most dangerous, if proper precautions aren’t taken.
Cooking the turkey at the proper temperature, keeping cooking hands clean and being cautious of sanitizing utensils, are a few of the recommendations Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Melinda Houser suggests this year.
Houser cited food-borne illnesses such as salmonella to be linked to consumption of meals served during the holiday season, possibly because of the chef’s lack of taking extra precautions when cooking for a larger crowd than normal. This includes sanitizing and deep-cleaning both tools used to prepare the raw meats and the surfaces the turkey or ham touched.
Often overlooked, but keep in mind:

  • Houser stresses the importance of cooking the turkey at an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • The same cleanliness steps should be taken for the hands that prepared the meal. Continuously scrub fingers, nails and palms after getting the turkey ready or touching the meat at any time when it’s in its raw state.
  • If the turkey is thawed in the refrigerator, plan three to four days ahead to ensure that it is sully thawed — cooking a partially thawed turkey increases the risk of food poisoning, Houser noted.
  • Trying to speed up the process of de-freezing the bird can lead to cross-contamination, uneven thawing that can result in uneven cooking — burning one section, while another remains partially raw.
  • To also avoid contaminating other parts of the meal, leave the frozen turkey in its original packaging. Plastic may, however, be wrapped around the outside to keep meat juices from dripping on “ready to eat foods below,” or the turkey may be placed in a pan to catch the juices. Thawing on the counter is not OK. If anything, it poses more contamination risks later.
  • Don’t rely on the color. Recipes may sometimes suggest the meat is done with the juices appear clear — Houser verified that’s a myth. The best and only way to know whether a turkey is ready, is with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer that reads 165 degrees. Stick the thermometer in multiple areas of the bird to be sure, being careful not to touch the bone.

Now comes the fun part — leftovers.
Saving what’s left of the Thanksgiving feast can sometimes be the best part of the eating experience — having lunch and dinner options for days, sometimes weeks. However, as with the risks of preparing the meal, certain steps should be taken to ensure the meat is still safe to eat.
Just because it’s cooked, doesn’t mean it’s completely safe.
Refrigerate leftover turkey within two hours of taking it out of the oven, Houser said. Turkey should be cooled to 41 degrees quickly, which is best accomplished by putting the sliced up leftover turkey in a one-quart resealable bag and laying it flat in the refrigerator.
For questions on how to prepare safe holiday foods, call (704) 736-8461.

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