4 Tips to Make This Your Safest Thanksgiving Yet

( Farm Journal's PORK )

Thanksgiving – who doesn’t need a reminder to stop and say thank you once in a while? This is the perfect time to take a pause, appreciate your blessings and enjoy time with family and friends. If you’re the one taking the lead this holiday season on meal preparation, here are four tips from USDA to prevent foodborne illness and unnecessary holiday stress.

1. Wash your hands.
It’s simple, but it’s critically important. Handwashing is the first step to safe food preparation. Not only does it reduce the risk of foodborne illness and is critical after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood and egg products, but in a recent USDA study, participants failed to wash their hands sufficiently nearly 100% of the time. 

USDA offers five simple steps to wash your hands properly.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel.

2. Prevent cross-contamination.
Turkeys can be large and hard to handle, which makes the risk of cross-contamination higher during Thanksgiving meal preparation, USDA says. Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, common pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. A recent USDA study discovered that 60% of sinks were contaminated after handling raw poultry in the sink. If you handle turkey in the sink, fully clean and sanitize your sink and other surfaces after handling your raw turkey and before prepping any other Thanksgiving sides and dishes. To clean surfaces, wash them with soap and warm water to remove dirt and debris. Then use a solution of chlorine bleach or an alcohol-based solution to sanitize. Sanitizing reduces the number of bacteria present on a surface and leaves your sink, counters and other surfaces safe from harmful bacteria.

3. Cook the turkey to 165°F.
The only way to kill bacteria is to fully cook turkey and any other dishes with raw meat, poultry or egg products. Cook them to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. To properly take the internal temperature of your turkey, test it in three areas — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh. Once all three locations reach 165°F, the bird is safe to eat. 

4. Follow the two-hour rule.
It’s tempting to go back for seconds, but perishable foods are only safe out on the table for two hours, USDA says. Food will be in the Danger Zone after two hours, temperatures between 40-140°F, where bacteria can rapidly multiply and cause the food to become unsafe. Put all leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours in small, shallow containers. If foods have been left out for more than two hours, they should be discarded.

Still have questions? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. On Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

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