By quoting numbers from the CDC, a food safety specialist from Oklahoma State University recently demonstrated how import home food safety is, especially during the holiday season when there are more cooks in the kitchen and more people at the table.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are expected to be consumed on Thanksgiving Day. Multiply that by the number of family and friends sitting down to holiday meals, and that’s a lot of opportunities for food poisoning, from the turkey alone.
“Every year in the United States, approximately 48 million people get sick because of some form of foodborne illness,” said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist for the Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report of those patients, 128,000 are hospitalized and, 3,000 people die every year.
“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” said Administrator Carmen Rottenberg of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “It is important to be mindful of all of your cooks and people in the kitchen. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk of foodborne illnesses.”
The following warnings and tips from the USDA and Oklahoma State University’s Food and Agricultural Products Center can help keep your family and guests safe this Thanksgiving.
1. Practice common sense food safety
- Buy only government-inspected meat and poultry products, and check the “sell by” date on all food purchases. Never buy products if the expiration date has passed.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing any food product.
- Use two cutting boards: one for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish, and the other for cutting cooked food or preparing salads.
2. Don’t wash your turkey
Individuals that wash or rinse raw poultry are putting themselves at risk of illness, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed.
“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”
Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
- Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
- 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.
Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry or their juices.
- Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.
- This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.
- Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.
- Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then scrub your hands for 20 seconds.
Destroy any illness-causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
- Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
- Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.
- Washing, rinsing, or bringing meat and poultry in saltwater, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.
3. Follow thawing instructions
As soon as raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 degrees F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.
Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, at room temperature or in hot water. They must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. There are safe ways to thaw a turkey and other food, including in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.
Even though the center of the food may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food can easily be in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. The danger zone allows bacteria to multiply rapidly.
Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing and cook them separately.
Refrigerator thawing for turkey and other foods
In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
|4 to 12 pounds||1 to 3 days|
|12 to 16 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|16 to 20 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|20 to 24 pounds||5 to 6 days|
- Planning ahead is the key because a large frozen turkey requires at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds.
- Small amounts of frozen food — such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day to thaw
- Food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 °F than one set at 40 °F.
- After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking.
- Red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) should remain safe and good quality 3 to 5 days.
- Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.
Cold water thawing
In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
|4 to 12 pounds||2 to 6 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
- This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention.
- The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in a watery product.
- The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw.
- Small packages of meat, poultry or seafood — about a pound — may thaw in 1 hour or less.
- A 3-to 4-pound package may take 2 to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.
- Once thawed food must be cooked immediately. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
- After thawing in the microwave, always cook immediately, whether microwave cooking, by a conventional oven, or grilling.
- Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, the food may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.
- Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.
- Never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.
Cooking without thawing
- It is safe to cook foods from the frozen state.
- The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.
4. Thoroughly cook your turkey
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is done.
- Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Be aware dark meat takes longer to cook than any other part.
- The turkey is done when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Basting the turkey while it is cooking is not necessary. Basting tools could be sources of bacterial contamination if dipped into uncooked or undercooked poultry juices and then allowed to sit at room temperature for later basting.
- Do not cook a turkey overnight in an oven set at a low temperature. Cooking a turkey at a temperature below 325 degrees Fahrenheit allows harmful bacteria to multiply.
- Once the turkey is done, remove the stuffing immediately.
- If you purchase a fully cooked turkey, pick it up hot and bring it home to eat immediately.
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