NATIONAL (CBS NEWSPATH) – With many Americans changing their plans and staying home this Thanksgiving because of the coronavirus, many people could be prepping a Turkey Day meal for the first time. Federal health officials want to remind everyone about proper food safety practices to avoid foodborne illness this holiday season.
The first step is to properly thaw your frozen bird and give yourself plenty of time. “It’s going to take some time to thaw this. And if you don’t do it safely, you might have a food safety risk. So, you need to thaw it in the refrigerator, this is our best method, and it takes about 24 hours for every four or five pounds of that turkey,” says the USDA’s Dr. Mindy Brashears.
She says when it’s time to cook the bird, it’s best to use a food thermometer. “That food thermometer needs to be put into the thickest part of the breast and then the innermost part of the thigh and wing. And we want to get that Turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you could get to that temperature, the turkey is juicy, it’s done, you’ve killed the bacteria,” Dr. Brashears says.
It’s very important to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen because that could cause foodborne illness. Wash and sanitize all surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, and hands. Dr. Brashears says, “Wash your hands before you prepare food, wash your hands during food preparation, if you’re handling something raw or something that could be contaminated, and wash your hands afterward. 95% to 99% of our consumers in observational studies don’t wash their hands at all or they don’t properly wash their hands.”
Once the big meal is done, get the leftovers into the refrigerator within two hours. Break them into smaller containers so they chill quickly, and toss everything after four days.
Also, when it comes to leftovers, pay special attention to the stuffing or dressing and anything that has potatoes in it. Experts say if you leave those sitting out, spore forming bacteria that survived the cooking process can start growing at room temperature.
If you have questions about preparing Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain Time, Monday through Friday. If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Mountain Time.