Feasting with family and friends is an enjoyable part of many holiday celebrations. With the number of things that can go wrong in the kitchen, steering clear of food safety blunders can be challenging. It is important not to cut corners and put family and friends at risk of foodborne illness by forgetting to wash your hands after handling the raw turkey, or forgetting to check the internal temperature to assure the turkey is fully cooked.
Every year, approximately 48 million Americans become ill with a foodborne illness. Salmonella infection is of particular concern with turkey and other poultry products. During the last year, there has been a multi-state outbreak of 164 Salmonella Reading cases, including one in Oklahoma, related to raw turkey exposure. This strain of Salmonella might be widespread in the turkey industry. The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reminds everyone about the importance of practicing food safety when handling and preparing turkey, as well as other holiday foods.
The OSDH recommends the following food safety tips for preparing a holiday meal and keeping gatherings free of foodborne illness:
20 Seconds of Hand Washing: Wash hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing is especially important when handling any raw meats. Without proper hand washing, the well-intentioned cook could quickly spread bacteria around the kitchen and to other food dishes. Hand washing should always include five simple steps:
Wet hands with clean, running water, and apply soap.
Lather hands by rubbing them together with soap. Be sure to lather the backs of hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.
Rinse hands well under clean, running water.
Dry hands using a clean towel.
Say No to ‘Bird Baths’: Do not rinse or wash the turkey. Doing so can spread bacteria around the kitchen, contaminating counter tops, towels, and other food. Washing poultry doesn’t remove all the bacteria from the bird. Only cooking to the proper internal temperature of 165°F will ensure that all bacteria are killed. If you have held the raw turkey, make sure to wash hands completely before seasoning to avoid contaminating spice containers.
Thaw the Turkey Correctly: Never thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter. To ensure that harmful bacteria do not multiply, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave.
Check the Temperature of the Turkey and Cook the Stuffing Outside the Turkey: Do not rely on the pop-up thermometers that come with the turkey to determine if it is safe to eat. Take the bird’s temperature with a food thermometer in three areas: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh. Assure that all these areas reach 165°F. When stuffing is cooked inside the turkey’s cavity, it must also be checked to assure it reaches 165°F. It’s easier to keep things simple and cook the stuffing outside the bird.
Use the Two-Hour Rule to Avoid Foodborne Illness: Everyone loves to graze during holiday meals, but when perishable food sits at room temperature for too long, bacteria can multiply. If cooked foods containing meat, vegetables or dairy products have been left at room temperature for more than two hours, they should be discarded.