By Mindy Athas, RD, CSO, LDN
Editor’s Note: Mindy Athas wrote this post on November 9, 2010 for Exercists, the Baltimore Sun’s health and fitness blog. This post, which has been edited, is reprinted with the permission of the Baltimore Sun.
Thanksgiving can be a both a stressful and joyful time. Don’t let food-borne illness make things worse. Food-borne illness can happen to anyone. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, cramping or worse. Many foods can harbor dangerous bacteria, which can grow quickly at room temperature. Here’s how to avoid spending Black Friday in the bathroom or emergency room.
Plan: Order your turkey in advance from a local farm or farmers’ market. Buy frozen turkey a few days ahead to allow thaw-time in the refrigerator, or get it earlier and keep it frozen. Raw foods must be kept at the correct temperatures to inhibit bacterial growth. That means 0 degrees for the freezer and less than 40 degrees for the refrigerator. Thaw turkey on a tray in the fridge, so juices don’t leak onto other foods. For fresh turkey that arrives more than four days before the holiday, consider brining, smoking or freezing it. Four days is the max for raw turkey in the refrigerator, so keep that in mind when buying.
Chill Out: Keep that turkey cold. The danger zone for maximum bacterial growth is between 40 and 140 degrees, so aim to keep all foods out of this zone. Frozen turkey thawing should occur either inside the refrigerator, in a cold-water sink bath or in the microwave. Allow time for this process; the larger the bird, the longer the thaw. Fridge thawing can take up to five days, and cold-water sink bathing can take up to 12 hours. And if you plan to nuke that bird, make sure it fits in your microwave. For frozen pre-stuffed turkey, keep it in the freezer and don’t thaw before roasting.
Divide and Conquer: Bacteria multiply, especially in warm, moist environments. So never leave that raw turkey out on your countertop. Cooking to proper temperatures will prevent bacterial growth. Allow time for your turkey to roast to perfection, usually between three and six hours. The ideal temperature is 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer instead of relying on the pop-up button that comes plugged into your bird. Go to fsis.usda.gov for more tips.
Storage Savvy: In the refrigerator, toss your fresh fruits and vegetables in the storage bins or inside a bowl. Wait to wash the fresh produce until right before using or serving; wet stuff can grow mold — even in the refrigerator. See foodsafety.gov for more details.
Prep Power: When preparing the big meal, keep the raw and ready-to-eat foods separate. Use different cutting boards, plates, utensils and knives. Never reuse something that touched a raw item, and wash everything in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. Wipe up any spills from raw foods and disinfect all surfaces. Preventing cross-contamination is key to avoiding food-borne illness. And wash your hands before, during and after preparing food.
Stuffing: So, you like your turkey all dressed up. You can’t waste precious oven space with a separate, but safer, stuffing casserole dish. If you must pre-stuff your turkey before roasting, you’ll need to thermometer-test the dressing, too. Its cooked temperature goal is also 165 degrees. Fill the turkey cavern just before cooking to limit the time the stuffing spends at room temperature. See butterball.com for more information.
Game Time: When carving turkey, serve the slices on an unused platter. Keep this platter, along with other hot dishes, on a hot plate or within chafing dishes. Aim to keep the temperature above 140 degrees. Hot foods that drop below this safe level must be eaten or removed from the buffet table within two hours.
Think Like A Restaurant: Serve smaller portions at the table and keep the bulk of the food hot in the oven or on the stove.
Time for Leftovers: Depending on the amount of food you didn’t send home with guests, decide what will be eaten in the next four days. Anything that won’t make that time frame needs to be frozen. Wrap it well, label and date it. What you are keeping for the week should be placed in shallow containers to help it cool down quickly. For more turkey concerns, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) or 1-800-BUTTERBALL.
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