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Nov 01

Safe Holiday Meals

Posted on November 1, 2018 at 11:47 AM by Doug Bolnick


Photo of a Thanksgiving meal spread out on a table before servingMany families and friends will sit down to wonderful meals during the holidays. While, for some, the roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing and pies may seem to magically appear on the table, there are hours of planning and preparation that go into holiday meals. While thawing, cleaning, preparing, serving and storing, it’s important to follow the Four Keys to Food Safety (CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL).

There are more than 250 different foodborne illnesses. Most of these illnesses are caused by how the meal is prepared, cooked and served. To help make sure that holiday guests don’t become one of the many millions who become sick each year from foodborne illness, these Four Steps will help create safe meals.

Step One - Thawing the Bird

There are two ways to purchase your turkey — fresh or frozen. If purchasing a fresh turkey, it should be bought no more than one or two days before it’s cooked, and it should be stored in the refrigerator until ready for the oven. If the turkey is frozen, it can be stored in the freezer until the thawing process begins.

There are two main ways to thaw a frozen turkey. Whichever method chosen, remember to leave the bird in its original wrapping, and place it on a tray or large pan to collect any drippings.

Thawing in a Refrigerator

For every 4-5 pounds in total weight, plan for 24 hours in a refrigerator (set at 40 degrees or below) to thaw. After thawing completely, the turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for no more than two days.

Thawing in Cold Water

For every pound in total weight, soak the frozen bird in cold water for 30 minutes until completely thaw. Ensure that the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water. Change the water every 30 minutes to maintain temperature. Cold-water thawed turkeys should not be stored in a refrigerator and should be prepared immediately.

Step Two - Add Sides to the Mix

In addition to the turkey, many other foods are included in a traditional holiday meal. Take precautions in storing, preparing and serving side dishes as well.

  • Before preparation, be sure to wash all fruits vegetables — including salad greens and other bagged items.
  • Keep raw and prepared items separate. Use different cutting boards and utensils when chopping raw vegetables and meats to prevent cross-contamination.
  • To prevent bacteria from contaminating side dishes, you should also cook them to their proper temperatures as well:
    • 145 degrees for fresh beef and fish or pre-cooked hams
    • 160 degrees for ground beef, raw pork/uncooked ham, and egg dishes
    • 165 degrees for all poultry and stuffing or casseroles
    • Bring all soups, gravies and hot sauces to a rolling boil for a few minutes before serving.
  • If preparing items in advance, store them in the refrigerator or freezer and re-heat items to proper temperatures before serving.

Step Three - Reach the Degree

To kill harmful bacteria, you should cook a turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a meat thermometer to check the innermost part of the thigh and the thickestPhoto of a cooked turkey resting from the oven part of the breast to determine doneness. For a more even cooking, rotate the turkey in the oven during the cooking process. Follow these guidelines for cooking times:

  • 4-8 pound turkey breast - at least 1.5 to 3 hours
  • 8-12 pound whole turkey - at least 2.75 to 3 hours
  • 12-14 pound whole turkey - at least 3 to 3.75 hours
  • 14-18 pound whole turkey - at least 3.75 to 4.25 hours
  • 18-20 pound whole turkey - at least 4.25 to 4.5 hours
  • 20-24 pound whole turkey - at least 4.5 to 5 hours

Step Four - Keep Up the Heat or Chill?

Holiday celebrations can be long and joyous events. Don’t spoil the hours you’ve spent in preparing the meal by allowing contaminants to develop during serving.

  • Serve cold foods on ice or another cooling vessel, so that they do not reach temperatures above 40 degrees. Keep hot foods above 140 degrees. Between 40 to 140 degrees is when bacteria most abundantly develop.
  • Do not allow foods to stay at room temperature longer than two hours. Store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • For best results, divide all leftovers into small portions before storing in the refrigerator for a more even cooling that prevents bacteria.

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