10 Tips for A Safe Thanksgiving Dinner

Chow on 11.21.12
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So much of the joy of Thanksgiving is the sharing of food with family and friends. That means lots of people helping out in the kitchen. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of what is going on and to maintain a high level of hygiene that is so important, especially surrounding the preparation of the turkey. Here are a few pointers that are mostly common sense, but are things that can fall by the wayside during the rush to get the dinner prepared.

Perhaps the biggest source of Thanksgiving illness comes from the stuffing. Many people choose not to stuff the turkey at all for that very reason, but if you do, remember that the  temperature must reach 165F for the turkey to be safe to eat. Be smart and use a thermometer, rather than guessing. My mother always pokes the turkey and says it's done when the juices run clear, rather than pink, but it really isn't a good enough way to do it. We've never had a problem with salmonella because she overcooks her turkey so much because of her food poisoning fears. Really, a thermometer is easier. Remove the stuffing entirely before you begin to carve the turkey.

1. Wash Your Hands Frequently

Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food of any kind. Remember to wash them every time you touch raw poultry-and I mean every time.

2. Remove Innards Right Away

If your turkey is fresh, remove the innards right away and rinse out the cavity with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Keep it refrigerated until you are ready to stuff it.

3. Defrost the Turkey in the Refrigerator

If your turkey is frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator not on the kitchen counter (or the bathtub) where bacteria can grow. Give it at least a day, preferably two for defrosting to be ready to cook. We've all heard the stories about showing up for dinner to find the host defrosting the turkey with a hairdryer, well, at least my aunt did that once. Don't let it happen to you.

4. Never Pre-stuff Your Turkey

Never, ever pre-stuff the turkey. The bread will absorb the liquid in the cavity and will become contaminated. It won't taste bad but you'll certainly find out about it later.

5. Cover Cuts and/or Sores

If you have any cuts or sores on your hands, make sure they are completely covered. This not only keeps you from contaminating the turkey, but also prevents infection in your wound. Be careful stuffing the turkey as there are often sharp bone ends and you can easily cut yourself.

6. Keep the Cutting Board Clean

If you can, have a cutting board which you only use for poultry. Be sure to wash the board thoroughly with warm soapy water the instant your are finished with it. Letting it sit on the counter, while you do another task, increases the chance that you or someone helping out in the kitchen will put some other food on it thereby transferring bacteria.

7. Wash Knives Regularly

Same rule goes for knives. If the knife is sitting on the counter, chances are someone has already used it. My husband always picks up a knife from the counter and uses it to slice some cheese or bread, which makes me nuts. Now I circumvent this by washing the knife as soon as I'm finished using it. Unless you take a knife straight from the drawer, wash it.

8. Keep Your Work Surface Clean

Clean up as you go. This gives you more working space and you are less likely to put food on a plate or bowl that has been in contact with raw poultry, or the counter where the wet packaging has sat.

9. Refrigerate Leftovers Promptly

Once dinner is over, make sure the leftover meat, stuffing, and the carcass are promptly refrigerated in separate containers. Never put cooked meat on a platter that held the raw poultry. The turkey will last for a few days in the refrigerator, but the stuffing should be used the next day, if possible. Never leave any stuffing in the carcass

10. Keeping Dishes and Counter Tops Clean

Use a cloth that is designated for dishes and counter tops only. Nothing makes me gag faster than watching someone take a dishcloth and wipe up a spill from the kitchen floor. If someone helping out in your kitchen does this, replace it with a clean one right away.

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