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State Dept. of Health Provides Thanksgiving Meal Safety Tips

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With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the New York State Department of Health today reminded New Yorkers cooking meals for family and friends this holiday season to take proper food safety precautions to prevent foodborne illnesses.  

For many, the Thanksgiving meal is the largest meal cooked all year, which could be a contributor of mistakes that could cause foodborne illness. The Departments urge consumers to become familiar with the following five food safety Thanksgiving tips:

Tip 1: Don’t wash the turkey.

According to a survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 68 percent of people believe the turkey should be washed before cooking it, however this is not recommended. Washing the turkey can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away, as the water is likely to splash onto clean counters, cutting boards, sink handles, etc. It is recommended to cook the turkey to an inner temperature of at least 165°F, by either baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling. This high temperature is needed to kill any bacteria that may be present; washing meat and poultry is not necessary.

Tip 2: Use the refrigerator, the cold-water method, or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey.

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave oven. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every five pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to the microwave’s owner’s manual. Cold water and microwave thawing can also be used if the turkey did not entirely defrost in the refrigerator.

Tip 3: Use a meat thermometer.

The only way to determine if a turkey is cooked is to check its internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. The thermometer should register at least 165°F in all three of these places. Using a food thermometer is the best way to ensure the turkey is properly cooked.

Tip 4: Don’t store food outside, even if it’s cold.

Storing food outside is not food safe. Animals, both wild and domesticated, can get into food stored outside, consuming it or contaminating it. Additionally, just like a car gets warm in the summer, a plastic food storage container in the sun can heat up and climb into the “danger zone” (above 40°F), allowing bacteria to grow. The best way to keep extra Thanksgiving food at a safe temperature (below 40°F) is in a refrigerator or in a cooler with ice.

Tip 5: Turkey leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it as soon as possible, within two hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Turkey leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator. If the leftovers won’t be used right away, they should be packed into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use leftover turkey within four months. After that, the leftovers will still be safe, but can dry out or lose flavor.

Making food safety part of the Thanksgiving meal tradition ensures safety from food-borne illness.

For additional food safety tips, contact the Department of Agriculture and Markets Food Safety Division to request to speak to a food safety expert, or read the New York State Department of Health’s guidelines.

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