Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner and with more than 46 million turkeys set to be eaten, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding consumers to take the necessary precautions to prevent serious food-borne illness while cooking their meals and ensure their families has a safe and healthy Thanksgiving feast.
María Machuca, USDA public affairs specialist, said the Thanksgiving meal is by far the largest and most stressful meal many consumers prepare all year.
This could leave room for mistakes that can make them and their guests sick if not careful, Machuca said.
Because turkey and other meat and poultry may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter that can lead to serious foodborne illness, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is providing consumers with tips and resources to make their Thanksgiving safe and stress-free.
Machuca said it is important for consumers to follow these guidelines because millions of consumers each year suffer from foodborne illness or food poisoning, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 lose their lives each year to food-borne illness.
Machuca recommends consumers to follow these five steps:
▪ 1. Wash your hands, but not your turkey
Washing your hands before cooking is the simplest way to stop the spread of bacteria, while washing your turkey is the easiest way to spread bacteria all over your kitchen. According to the 2016 Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Survey, 68 percent of consumers wash poultry in the kitchen sink, which is not recommended by the USDA. Research shows that washing meat or poultry can splash bacteria around your kitchen by up to 3 feet, contaminating countertops, towels and other food. Washing doesn’t remove bacteria from the bird. Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.
The exception to this rule is brining. When rinsing brine off of a turkey, be sure to remove all other food or objects from the sink, layer the area with paper towels and use a slow stream of water to avoid splashing.
▪ 2. To stuff or not to stuff
For optimal food safety, do not stuff the turkey. Even if the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria. It is best to cook the stuffing in a separate dish.
▪ 3. Take the temperature of the bird
Although there are various ways to cook a turkey, the only way to avoid food-borne illness is to make sure it is cooked to the correct internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Take the bird’s temperature in three areas – the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh – make sure all three locations reach 165ºF. If one of those locations does not register at 165ºF, then continue cooking until all three locations reach the correct internal temperature.
▪ 4. Follow the two-hour rule
Perishable foods should not be left on the table or countertops for longer than two hours. After two hours, food falls into the Danger Zone, temperatures between 40-140ºF, where bacteria can rapidly multiply. If that food is then eaten, your guests could get sick. Cut turkey into smaller slices and refrigerate along with other perishable items, such as potatoes, gravy and vegetables. Leftovers should stay safe in the refrigerator for four days.
▪ 5. When in doubt call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. You can also chat live at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.
Machuca said during the fiscal year 2017, they received 52,285 calls to the Meat and Poultry Hotline and on Thanksgiving Day 2016 the hotline received 7,890 inquiries.
She added that the online chat feature of AskKaren.gov has been extremely effective and has increased by 20 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Machuca said that in 2017, they received 3,296 chats.