A Thanksgiving meal can be a great time for everyone—unless everyone ends up with food poisoning. Writing for U.S. News & World Report, Joan Salge Blake, a clinical nutrition professor at Boston University, outlines five common food safety mistakes you should avoid for your Thanksgiving meal.
5 food safety mistakes to avoid this Thanksgiving
Mistake 1: Waiting until the last minute to thaw your turkey
It's easy to buy a turkey weeks before Thanksgiving, freeze it, and then forget about it until the last minute, Blake writes. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you need to make sure to allow 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey in order for it to safely thaw in the refrigerator.
Blake recommends putting a note on your phone to remind you to take the turkey out in time and to thaw the turkey in its original wrapping in a large pan at the bottom of the refrigerator so the turkey's juices don't contaminate any foods nearby.
Mistake 2: Washing the turkey in the sink
According to FDA, 68% of consumers wash whole chickens or turkeys before cooking them, but doing so isn't necessary, and it can contaminate your sink, Blake writes.
Washing your turkey in the sink creates a "petri dish-like environment where pathogens that can cause food poisoning can multiply and cross-contaminate other foods," like raw vegetables for a salad, Blake writes.
There is one exception to this rule, however, and that's when you're brining a turkey, Blake writes. Rinsing the turkey is necessary to remove excess brine before the turkey goes into the oven. To do this safely, Blake recommends removing everything around the sink, covering the countertop area with paper towels, then moving the roasting pan next to the sink and carefully rinsing the turkey in slow, running water in order to minimize splashing.
Then, transfer the turkey to the pan, throw away the paper towels, and clean the sink area with hot soapy water.
Mistake 3: Not using a food thermometer
You may think you can eyeball when a turkey is ready, but you should be using a food thermometer instead, Blake writes.
USDA recommends you place a food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing of the turkey and the thickest part of the breast, and ensure they've all reached a safe temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. And if your food thermometer runs on batteries, make sure you have backup batteries at the ready.
Mistake 4: Stuffing the turkey
While stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey is a common tradition, Blake writes that it's one that could be dangerous for your guests, as bacteria inside the cavity of the turkey can survive unless both the turkey itself and the stuffing are cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Making sure both are cooked to the correct temperature without over or undercooking the food can be difficult, which is why it's safer to bake the stuffing in a casserole dish separate from the turkey, Blake writes.
Mistake 5: Not putting away leftovers soon enough
Leaving out Thanksgiving leftovers too long can cause bacteria to grow, Blake writes. If you leave out leftovers, including side dishes, at room temperature for more than two hours, that increases the chance that bacteria grows to levels that can make you sick. Instead, make sure you refrigerate your leftovers immediately, Blake writes. (Blake, U.S. News & World Report, 11/9)