Special foods and favorite family recipes are a treasured part of many Thanksgiving celebrations. In addition to enjoying these foods in moderation, the Tennessee Department of Health urges all Tennesseans to practice safe food handling while preparing, transporting and storing food to protect family and friends from food-borne illness.
“The fall and winter holidays bring lots of celebrations that include wonderful foods made with loving care, but don’t let a celebration go south. Enjoy these foods in moderation and be careful to handle them properly,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “For example, cook food to a proper temperature, handle it safely by not mixing raw meat and raw vegetables on the same surfaces, be really careful if you are deep frying a turkey and stop eating when you are full. Just store food properly and enjoy it again the next day.”
Federal authorities estimate there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses such as norovirus, E. coli, shigella and salmonella in the United States each year–the equivalent of sickening one in six Americans. These illnesses cause an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths nationwide every year.
Safe food handling should start long before a meal is served, beginning with bringing food home from the store and continuing in the kitchen with food storage and preparation. Follow these tips to help keep food safe.
- Wash hands and surfaces: Start with clean hands, counters, utensils and cutting boards before preparing food. Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.
- Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs securely wrapped and separate from other foods when grocery shopping and in the refrigerator at home. Use separate cutting boards and plates for these items.
- Thaw and marinate foods in the refrigerator. Never thaw or marinate food on the counter, as bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature and make the outside thawed parts dangerous even if the food item is still cold or frozen inside. If planning to use a marinade as a sauce on cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding raw meat, poultry or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade that has been used on raw food.
- Clean all produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before preparing or serving, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
- Keep cold foods cold. Cold food should be stored at 40° Fahrenheit or below and kept at that temperature until serving time to prevent bacterial growth. When taking a chilled dish to a party, transport cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
- Cook food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to be sure food is safely cooked. Steaks, roasts, pork and fish should be cooked to 145° F; ground beef and pork to 160° F; whole chicken, chicken breasts, turkey and ground chicken to 165° F.
- Keep "ready" food hot. Keep prepared hot foods in a warm oven, crock pot or chafing dish to retain proper temperatures at or above 140° F.
- Don't reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood allows bacteria from raw food juices to spread to cooked food. Use a clean platter and utensils to serve food.
- Chill perishable foods promptly. Leftovers of prepared, perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent growth of bacteria. Chilled foods that have remained at room temperature for longer than four hours should be discarded. The refrigerator should be between 32° and 40° F, and the freezer should be at 0° F or below.
Cooks and helpers in the kitchen should wash their hands before preparing food, after handling any raw items and frequently during food prep and cooking. Everyone should wash their hands before eating.
Electric knives, turkey fryers and other cooking gadgets pose a risk of injury if used improperly. Follow all instructions for use of such items and take proper time and care when using them. Turkey fryers also pose a risk for fire, so take care not to overfill with oil and follow manufacturers’ instructions for safe use.
If there’s any question about the safety of a food item before, during or after cooking, remember this rule: “If in doubt, throw it out.”
State of Tennessee Health Department