Food safety tips for Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON — Overcook a Thanksgiving turkey and it might be dry and tough. Undercook it and it could end up looking like a pink, gelatinous science experiment.

Knowing turkey is supposed to be cooked to 165 degrees won’t do you much good if thermometer temperature checks aren’t performed properly at three individual puncture points.

“It should be measured in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing,” says Chris Bernstein, on the food safety education staff with the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Working to dispel a common kitchen practice that can make you sick, Bernstein also warns cooks not to rinse poultry.

“Washing a turkey isn’t going to make it any safer for you,” he says. “You might be splashing pathogens around your kitchen, which could cross-contaminate any of the vegetables you’re preparing for sides.”

When people leave your Thanksgiving dinner table you want their stomachs to rumble in satisfaction, not because you’ve unintentionally caused them intestinal distress.

“There are all kinds of food poisonings — some of the gestation periods can be hours to several days to even weeks or longer.”

The USDA says about one in six Americans gets sick from food poisoning each year.

Pathogens can grow in food even before the cooking process begins.

To defrost a frozen bird, Bernstein warns against placing it on the kitchen counter, outside deck or in the garage where temperatures can fluctuate and pathogens might grow.

Defrosting frozen poultry in the refrigerator will take about 24 hours for every five pounds. A cold water bath can accomplish your goal quicker.

“The turkey should be completely submerged in cold water and the water should be changed every 30 minutes,” Bernstein says, adding that the process will take about 12 hours for larger birds.

To keep your family safe from food poisoning at home the USDA recommends four simple steps:

  • Clean surfaces and hands frequently.
  • Separate raw and cooked food and everything that comes into contact with them.
  • Cook food to correct temperatures.
  • Chill perishable food within two hours to avoid growth of bacteria.

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