Preparing your Thanksgiving meal safely

Food safety is crucial to keeping your family safe from foodborne illness this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, are you hosting the meal? Have you ever eaten somewhere and been concerned about how your food was handled? Many people get foodborne illness annually, one in six in fact, and a large percentage is the result of unsafe practices at home. There are simple steps that you can do at home to prevent your guests from becoming ill.

First of all, allow time for your turkey to thaw properly. The best practice for thawing a turkey is to thaw it in the refrigerator. Allow one day for every five pounds of turkey, therefore – allow four days for a twenty-pound turkey. You should place the turkey in a container to collect any juices that may drip and then place it on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination. When buying a fresh turkey, only buy it one or two days before cooking. If you need to speed up the thawing process, you can also run cool water over it or place it in the microwave, if you thaw in the microwave, you must cook immediately following the microwave process.

On the day of, make sure you do not wash your turkey. This is a difficult concept for some as many are taught by their mothers or grandmothers to always wash their meat. What’s the harm you may wonder? The reason for not washing your meat, including your turkey, is because there is more potential for contamination to other food or surfaces if you wash it. If there are any pathogens or bacteria on the surface of the meat, there are likely some within the meat as well. The only way to get rid of pathogens and bacteria is to cook the meat to the correct internal temperature. Watch this video to see how washing meat can spread germs.

One of the most critical steps is cooking your turkey. Turkey, and any poultry, must be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F. Take the temperature in the thickest part of the wing, thigh and breast. If you are stuffing your turkey, this must also be cooked to 165 F. USDA has charts to help you determine how long to cook your turkey, depending on how big it is.

Lastly, after the meal is over, it is important to put your leftovers away promptly. Remove meat from the bones and place in covered containers. Use leftovers within three to four days. When you reheat leftovers, it is important to heat to 165 F as well. If you will not use the turkey within this period, place in the freezer where it will be good for three to four months.

Michigan State University Extension has many food safety programs, including ServSafe, Cooking for Crowds, Safe Food = Healthy Kids, food preservation as well as other programs and is a great resource if you have food safety questions.

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