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A Healthy Thanksgiving: Avoiding Holiday Foodborne Illnesses

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It’s that time of year. Yes, food and fellowship are plentiful! Spending time around the dinner table and sharing a meal with those we cherish is such a treat. Don’t be careless, take the appropriate measures to ensure the meals you prepare follow food safety guidelines. The USDA advises following safe food preparation and storage practices to help prevent foodborne illnesses.

Let’s start with the meat you intend to serve. If it is frozen, thawing a turkey or ham in the refrigerator is the safest method. For a turkey, always follow this simple rule, allow one day in the fridge per 5 pounds of bird. Because of the slow, consistent defrosting the refrigerator environment allows, it is the preferred method for defrosting meats. A ham does best thawing in the refrigerator as well and provides the option to refreeze if your plans change and the meat has not been cooked. Other alternatives to defrost safely are either cold water or microwaving. Cold water defrosting requires submerging the still sealed packaged meat in a sink full of cold water and the water being changed every 30 minutes until the product is thawed. Utilizing your microwave oven (if the turkey or ham can fit) is specific to the microwave and one should consult the manual for details of safe procedure.

In prepping the thawed turkey or ham for cooking, the USDA does not recommend rinsing raw meat prior to cooking. Here’s a fun fact courtesy of the USDA, “washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away!”  Bacteria is killed during the cooking process, so there is no need to rinse your meat prior to cooking.

Meat thermometers are essential to safe cooking practices. First, be certain the thermometer is accurate. The simple process of submerging the thermometer in ice water to determine the accuracy is a quick task. A turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and a ham should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Test the turkey temperature in the thickest part of the breast and the inner most parts of both the thigh and wing. Test the temperature of a ham in the thickest part avoiding a bone.

Leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours and are good for up to 4 days. Storing foods in airtight containers or storage bags ensures optimal quality.

Celebrate your Thanksgiving the right way. Make the effort to ensure your meals are prepared safely!

Still unsure of your holiday meal prep? The USDA provides two ways to consult an expert about your Thanksgiving meal preparation: online at AskKaren.gov or with the Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

Permanent link to this article: http://jackson.ifas.ufl.edu/fycs/2016/11/21/a-healthy-thanksgiving-avoiding-holiday-foodborne-illnesses/