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Practice Food Safety this Thanksgiving

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Follow Public Health Guidelines to Prevent Illness

By The Staff

FRANKFORT - For many, Thanksgiving means a home-cooked feast with family and friends. In light of this holiday tradition, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) reminds Kentuckians that food safety should also be a part of the celebration.

Many holiday dinners incorporate meat and poultry, a possible source of foodborne disease unless handled and prepared properly. This holiday season, DPH urges consumers to take precautions in preparing food items and to pay close attention to good hygiene practices.

“Proper hand washing is the most effective way to keep food and guests safe,” said Christine Atkinson, manager of DPH’s food safety branch. “It’s also important to remember to keep cooking areas clean and cook food to the proper internal temperature. Once the meal is over, perishable items should be stored at a proper temperature.”

Holiday buffets, party trays or even a poorly stored turkey could be the culprit of foodborne illness. Improperly stored food items provide breeding grounds for bacterial contamination, which causes illness that affects an average of 76 million people each year.

Here are a few simple food safety tips to avoid getting sick during the holiday season:

Wash hands: Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and dry your hands with a paper towel following restroom use, before preparing foods, after handling raw meat or before eating. Clean hands will help prevent the spread of potentially illness-causing microorganisms.

Clean: Wash and sanitize food-contact surfaces often. To sanitize utensils, immerse for 30 seconds in clean, hot water at 170 degrees Fahrenheit, or immerse for at least one minute in a clean solution containing at least 50 parts per million of chlorine (one teaspoon of 5.25 percent household bleach per gallon of water). Bacteria can spread and get onto cutting boards, knives and countertops. Wash fruits and vegetables before preparing.

Thaw properly: Proper methods for thawing a turkey include: thawing in a refrigerator with a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less (allow 3-4 days for thawing); placing under cool running water at a temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or less; or thawing in a microwave and cooking the turkey immediately.

Take temperatures: Cook at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked, hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check temperatures.

Keep it cold: Cold foods should be kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less. After the turkey is served, immediately slice and refrigerate on shallow platters. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days. Use gravy within one to two days. If freezing leftovers, use within two to six months for best quality.

Transport safely: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Reheat: Leftover turkey and stuffing should be stored separately in shallow dishes or platters. Rapidly reheat leftovers to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Remember the two-hour rule. Do not leave perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours,” said DPH Commissioner William D. Hacker, M.D.

For more information and free literature about food safety, contact the Food Safety Branch at (502) 564-7181 or visit DPH online.