Whether you’re cooking a lavish Thanksgiving dinner or a quick breakfast on a weekday morning, it’s important to follow safe food handling practices all year round. The Norwalk Health Department would like to remind the public of important food safety tips this holiday season to ensure your guests’ meals are both delicious and safe to eat.
“Thanksgiving dinners are often the largest meals home cooks prepare each year,” said Tom Closter, the Norwalk Health Department’s Director of Environmental Services. “By not following basic safe food handling practices, you’re putting your guests at risk for foodborne illness.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans become ill and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella or norovirus. Following the CDC’s food safety guidelines listed below can prevent foodborne illness from making its way onto your dinner plate this holiday season.
Wash your hands. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after preparing food, after touching raw meat, raw eggs, or unwashed fruit or vegetables, and before eating or drinking. Scrub your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before rinsing, and dry with a clean towel.
Cook food thoroughly. Many common foods can carry germs that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have been cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature. Food, including your Thanksgiving turkey, should be cooked until its internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Stuffing should be cooked outside of the turkey; if cooked inside the bird, it may not reach a safe minimum internal temperature, putting your guests at risk for foodborne illness. Always reheat food to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving to ensure foodborne illness causing germs are killed.
Keep food out of the “danger zone”. Foodborne illness causing bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Once thoroughly cooked, keep hot food hot if planning to serve immediately. Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of cooking. Set your refrigerator’s temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods that will be served cold should be kept cold once thoroughly cooked.
Use pasteurized eggs. Salmonella and other germs can live on the inside and outside of eggs, and many holiday favorites, such as eggnog and tiramisu, contain raw eggs. Always use pasteurized eggs when making these and other foods made with raw eggs.
Don’t lick the bowl! Do not taste or eat unpasteurized dough or batter of any kind, including those for cookies, cakes, pies, etc. Dough and batter made with flour or eggs can contain harmful germs, such as E. coli or Salmonella.
Keep foods separated. Always keep meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs separate from other foods while shopping and when stored in your refrigerator. Keep these foods in containers or sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping or leaking into other foods. Always sanitize or use new kitchen equipment, such as cutting boards or knives, between handling raw and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.
Safely thaw meat. Thaw turkey or other meats in the refrigerator, in a sink full of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods at room temperature or on the counter. If frying your Thanksgiving turkey, ensure your turkey is completely thawed before placing it into hot oil to avoid an explosion and/or fire.
Pay attention to recalls and national foodborne illness outbreaks. Foodborne illness can be lurking in your kitchen without you even knowing it! Currently, romaine lettuce is believed to be the cause of a major E. coli outbreak in the United States. Consumers are recommended to not eat, serve, or sell any romaine lettuce while the outbreak investigation continues. This includes whole heads of lettuce, hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, organic romaine, and salad mixes with romaine.
For more information on safe food handling practices and up-to-date information about national foodborne illness outbreaks, please visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety. The Norwalk Health Department wishes you a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful start to the holiday season!