Keep the holidays happy by avoiding food poisoning

PeaceHealth Southwest food and nutrition services director provides tips on making sure your Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t get anyone sick

The connection between food and Thanksgiving go all the way back to the beginning of the American holiday, though the pilgrims almost surely didn’t enjoy deep-fried turkey and jellied cranberry sauce.

Food safety is important during holiday meals. Photo by brandless on unsplash
Food safety is important during holiday meals. Photo by brandless on unsplash

There’s plenty of pressure to put on a Thanksgiving meal that’s not only delicious, but served up on time. Equally important though says Angela Hahn, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s director of food and nutrition services, is protecting your diners from dangerous bacteria like salmonella.

“Food borne illnesses can strike in multiple stages of the meal process, so be mindful when preparing, cooking, serving, and storing your food,” says Hahn.

These tips can help keep you and your family safe not just during the holidays, but all year ‘round.

PREPARATION

Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish away from other foods, surfaces, utensils, and serving plates, says Hahn. Do not wash or rinse raw meat and poultry. Washing or rinsing meat and poultry makes it more likely that bacteria will spread from the meat or poultry to kitchen utensils, countertops, and ready-to-eat foods.

If possible, use two cutting boards, says Hahn. 

“One for fresh produce and the other for raw meat, poultry, and seafood,” she says. “Otherwise, be sure to wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between each use.”

You can also wash your knives and cutting boards in the dishwasher to disinfect them. Replace cutting boards when they have become worn or have developed hard-to-clean grooves which can harbor bacteria and viruses.

Keep kitchen surfaces clean with hot, soapy water. Wash dishcloths and towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Wash raw fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them. Marinate foods in a covered dish in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Never thaw frozen meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish at room temperature. Thaw in the refrigerator or microwave. If you thaw food in the refrigerator, be sure juices do not drip onto other food. Place these foods on the lowest shelf, never above ready-to-eat foods.

Cook food immediately after thawing.

COOKING

Make sure that Thanksgiving turkey reaches 165 degrees and stays above 140 degrees to avoid potential bacterial contamination. Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash
Make sure that Thanksgiving turkey reaches 165 degrees and stays above 140 degrees to avoid potential bacterial contamination. Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

It is important to cook foods at a safe temperature to avoid food poisoning, says Hahn.

“Use a clean meat thermometer to determine whether meat, poultry, or egg dishes are cooked to a safe temperature,” she says. “Bring sauces, gravies, and soups to a boil when reheating. Reheat other leftovers to at least 165 degrees fahrenheit (74 degrees celsius).”

When using a microwave oven, cover the food container and turn or stir the food to make sure it is heated evenly throughout. If the microwave does not have a turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.

Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm. Do not eat raw or partially cooked eggs (including cookie dough), raw (unpasteurized) milk, cheeses made with raw milk, or unpasteurized juices.

Do not eat undercooked hamburger, the main source of E. coli infection.

Be aware of the risk of food poisoning from raw fish (including sushi), clams, and oysters. Cook fish and shellfish until it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Freezing food keeps it safe for as long as it is frozen.

SERVING

If you’re able, keep hot foods at 140 degrees and cold food below 40 degrees fahrenheit, says Hahn.

“Never leave meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or shellfish (raw or cooked) at room temperature for more than 2 hours,” she adds. “If the temperature outdoors is above 90 degrees, refrigerate within 1 hour. (Good advice for those Summer picnics).”

Proper food safety can help to prevent foodborne illnesses during the holidays. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Proper food safety can help to prevent foodborne illnesses during the holidays. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Chill leftovers as soon as you finish eating. Store leftovers in small, shallow containers to cool rapidly. Reheating foods that may be contaminated doesn’t make them safe, so if you’re not sure how long something has been in the refrigerator, throw it out.

The rule of thumb, Hahn says, is “when in doubt, throw it out.”

STORING

For storing those Thanksgiving Day leftovers, be sure your refrigerator at or below 40 degrees, and your freezer at or below zero.

“Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, ready-to-eat foods, and leftovers within 2 hours or sooner,” says Hahn.

Make sure to cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, or ground meats within two days of placing them in the refrigerator. For fresh beef, veal, lamb, or pork, the rule is no more than 3 to 5 days in the fridge before they need to be cooked or frozen. 

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated leftovers within 3 to 4 days.

“Don’t pack your refrigerator with food,” says Hahn. “Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.”

In general, high-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and pineapple can be stored, unopened, in a cupboard for 12 to 18 months.

Low-acid canned foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, and most vegetables can be stored for 2 to 5 years. But the can must be in good condition and stored in a cool, clean, dry place.

If the food label has a “use by” date, try to eat the food by that date. If that date has passed, it doesn’t mean the food is no longer safe, but check it carefully before eating it for any signs that it has spoiled. If the food smells, feels, or looks strange, throw it away.

You can find more food safety tips on the US Department of Agriculture’s website here.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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