Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, not foodborne illness

Your family has arrived. Turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie are ready to be prepared. Now, it’s time to cook all those Thanksgiving-musts. But food made without consideration for the spread of germs and illness can turn a well-planned holiday feast into a family health crisis.

How do you handle dirty hands, sick relatives or potentially undercooked food and keep foodborne illness out of Thanksgiving?

“Remember: Clean, separate, cook and chill,” said Georgia Department of Public Health Food Service Program Director Galen Baxter. “Foodborne illness can be caused by contaminated equipment, undercooked foods, foods from an unknown source or foods held out of temperature for more than four hours. It can also be caused by a sick cook, unwashed hands or hands with a cut or sore touching ready-to-eat food.”   

To ensure your holiday is not derailed by an unexpected case of food poisoning, follow these tips.  

  • Clean: Keep hands and work surfaces clean. Use the “clean-as-you-go” approach. Be aware that germs can spread throughout the kitchen when you touch raw meats and then touch utensils, the faucet or appliance handles.   
  • Separate: Make sure ready-to-eat foods such as salads, fruits, nuts, pies, cakes, cookies or any other food that will not get cooked prior to serving is stored away from raw, uncooked foods. If possible, use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods. Or, wash, rinse and sanitize these items between use with raw foods and ready-to-eat foods. 
  • Cook: Use a thermometer to ensure meats get cooked to the proper temperature (165°F for at least 15 seconds for any poultry products and 145°F for 15 seconds for any pork or fish).  Ground beef should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 155°F for 15 seconds. (Prior to the meal, ensure that all foods stay at the proper temperature. Cold food should be at 41°F or below and hot food hot at 135°F or above.)    
  • Chill: Don’t let leftover food sit out on the counter all day. Once the meal is over, cool food down quickly by placing it in front of a fan or put it in a larger pan with ice so that the ice touches all sides of the dish. This will help cool the food quickly, especially if the food is stirred periodically. Use a thermometer to verify food is dropping in temperature before placing it in the refrigerator. Leftovers should be eaten within three or four days.    

And when it comes to the turkey, make sure you don’t fall for this common misconception.

“Many people think they should wash the turkey prior to cooking,” said Baxter. “This is not a good practice. Washing the turkey can actually spread harmful germs as water splashes onto different surfaces around the kitchen and sink area. Cooking the turkey thoroughly to 165°F for 15 seconds will kill the bacteria so that it is safe to eat.”

For more tips on a safe and happy Thanksgiving feast, visit fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm092815.htm