By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
No one wants to spend the holiday weekend dealing with a food-related illness, so the Madison County Health Department is reminding residents to follow basic food-safety guidelines while preparing their Thanksgiving feasts and saving the leftovers.
“While we frequently associate food poisoning with restaurants or prepared foods, the fact is that we are just as likely to come across contaminated foods that have been prepared in the home kitchen,” said Christie Green, Madison County Health Department spokesperson.
• Never defrost a turkey or any type of meat on the counter.
“We should thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator, which requires extra time and advance planning,” Green said. “It’s tempting to just let them thaw on the counter because it’s quicker, but that increases the chances of harmful bacteria growing.”
• Avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen. This can be a big challenge when working together with a lot of cooks in a crowded kitchen, Green noted.
“Keeping raw meats and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods like cheeses and fresh vegetables during preparation is very important,” Green said.
Using separate cutting boards for raw meats and thoroughly washing the boards and utensils between uses on different foods is important for cutting down on cross-contamination. E. coli and salmonella are two types of illness-causing bacterium that can be transferred from raw meat to other foods.
• Wash your hands often, especially after handling raw meat and eggs.
“We can never say too much about hand washing,” Green said. “Germs on hands can linger to contaminate other foods.”
• Make sure your meat is well-cooked. While there’s many ways to cook a turkey and other holiday main course meats, use a food thermometer to make sure the dishes are being cooked at the proper temperature. Do not just rely on color or texture.
“The internal temperature should reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit,” Green said about cooking a turkey.
The internal temperature should be taken at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, according to the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s website www.holidayfoodsafety.org.
• Eat, freeze or discard your leftovers within three to four days. Be sure to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of the dishes being set out for the big meal.
“Once the feast is served and everyone has had their fill, the leftovers should be refrigerated rather than left out at room temperature where bacteria can grow faster,” Green said.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education advises “when in doubt, throw it out.”
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at shogsed@