During a recent CBS Sunday Morning show, one of the segments highlighted the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Based on a 2015 Thanksgiving Day power outage in Seattle when folks had to pull turkeys out of ovens before they were fully cooked, the commentator said, “Do cook your turkey.” Apparently, there were multiple incidents of food poisoning that day.
This is a good reminder to “cross your T’s” — thermometer, time and temperature — for food safety in the kitchen.
The Basic Rules
Whether we’re preparing holiday meals or routine daily breakfasts, food safety is for real and adopting good habits are the first line of defense to preventing foodborne illness. Here are the must-do rules:
- Clean: Wash hands before, during and after food preparations. Dry hands on a separate towel (not the one for dishes) or a clean paper towel. Wash all produce (whether you eat the skin or not) thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating. This includes produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers’ market. If the produce surface is rough like an avocado or melon, use a vegetable brush to lightly scrub the surface without bruising.
- Separate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs.1 Always use separate cutting boards for fresh meat and produce and make sure you keep raw poultry separate from ready-to-eat foods. And don’t rinse your turkey or any poultry! Rinsing your turkey can spread harmful germs and bacteria around the kitchen, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
- Cook: Buy two food thermometers. For cooking meats, like turkey, a meat thermometer is the first “t” to safe cooking. Whole poultry products, like turkeys, need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure the safety of the product (remember Seattle). For a whole turkey, the temperature should be checked in at least three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast.2 An instant read food thermometer is also necessary to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills germs. All hot foods need to be at least 140°F and make sure your leftovers are heated to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Chill: Refrigerate perishable food and leftovers within two hours. Chill within one hour if room or outside temperature is above 90°F. Refrigerate leftovers in shallow pans to allow for quick and even cooling. Cooling to room temperature on a countertop before chilling is not safe regardless of what you’ve been told.3 Remember if you’re not going to eat the leftovers within three to four days, freeze them to prevent waste and spoilage. Food items, like turkey, can be frozen for three to four months without sacrificing quality.
Foodborne Illness — The Uninvited Guest
Holidays — or any day — are not the time to have the uninvited guest of foodborne illness show up at your dinner table. Food safety is essential. Nearly half of U.S. consumers surveyed in 2020 by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) expressed widespread concern about food safety issues such as contamination, foodborne illness and safe cooking techniques, including cooking meat to a safe internal temperature. But only a third said they used a food thermometer.4 To ensure only “invited guests” are at your table use thermometers to make sure the temperature of all food (hot or cold) is in the safe range. And remember to take time to chill food properly before and after meals. Crossing the “t’s” in food safety is the first step to a safe and healthy holiday season.
1. “Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 30, 2020.
2. “Food Safety When Cooking with Turkey,” National Turkey Federation.
3. “4 Steps to Food Safety, Chill: Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
4. “Consumer Survey: Trends, Habits and Attitudes Related to Food Safety,” Food Insight, Sept. 2, 2020.