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Food safety tips help keep unwelcome guests from Thanksgiving dinner table

Food safety tips help keep unwelcome guests from Thanksgiving dinner table


COLUMBIA, Mo. – Thanksgiving is a great time to get together for a special dinner, but the last thing you want is any unwelcome visitors, such as salmonella, a kind of bacteria that can cause food-borne sickness.

“Food safety is a big thing at Thanksgiving. There is a lot to focus on in preparing the meal," said Andrew Clarke, University of Missouri food scientist.

Thanksgiving dinner can get complicated in its preparation and food often sits out unrefrigerated for extended periods, he said.

“Make sure hands and all surfaces are clean. Counters, cutting boards and utensils should be sanitized,” Clarke said. “Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.”

In transporting hot dishes to a Thanksgiving meal, keep them warm the entire time before serving or chill them properly before you leave and arrange to properly reheat the food before serving, he said.

If those hot dishes cool off, they get in the danger zone below 140 degrees. Reheating them offers what seems to be protection, but sometimes bacteria can create a toxin in the food.

In general, you need to put leftovers back into the refrigerator within two hours to ensure safety. After being left out in room temperature for more than two hours, leftover food should be thrown out.

The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator, which means planning. Such thawing takes about one day for every 5 pounds of turkey. For a turkey that serves the typical family, that may take three or four days.

An acceptable and faster way to thaw is to submerge the bird in cold water. Allow 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Do not place the bird out on a kitchen counter as the surface temperature becomes suitable for microbial growth very quickly.

The target for cooking a turkey is 165 degrees in the thickest part.

The little pop-up timers on some turkeys are usually accurate, but the problem is they record the temperature in only one small spot of the turkey.

 You may want to have a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey to make sure it is fully cooked.