Be Thankful for the Pillars of Food Safety

By: Bridget Sweet, REHS/RS, CP-FS, JWU executive director of food safety

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Thanksgiving is a day to spend with family and friends, where we share thanks, stories, food, and hopefully no foodborne illnesses. With a smorgasbord of news coverage related to foodborne illness this past year, it is time to talk turkey, and I do not mean chatting with my four sons.

Thanksgiving is also that time of year when we should give thanks to modern science and the four pillars of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill. We should be minding these every day.

On Thanksgiving, there are often too many cooks in the kitchen as everyone (almost everyone) wants to lend a helping hand. Ensuring that all of your “helpers” – whether it is grandma or little Dill (who is one of my sons) wash their hands properly will go a long way to reduce food borne illness. Do not be surprised if little Dill washes his hands better than everyone does; elementary school teachers are sticklers for hand washing these days. Follow the little guy's lead at the sink.

In addition to clean hands – make sure your counter space is clean. Prepare your food in separate areas – if Dill is going to make a platter of cheese and crackers; do not let grandma mix the ingredients for meatballs while she stands right next to him. We want to reduce the risk of cross contamination. Also, refrain from washing that turkey before you place it in the oven. Washing the turkey in the sink can create additional cross contamination risks.

Make sure to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees (Fahrenheit). I know, I know – you can just tell when the skin is a golden brown, you know the bird is fully cooked. You do not have super powers with x-ray vision. Trust me: use the thermometer.

Once the meal is served and enjoyed, and as the guests and family start to get up from the table for football, shopping, or a nap, make the time to save the food properly for leftovers. Store the foods in shallow containers, allowing more surface area to increase cooling and place them into the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze, be sure the items are in the freezer no later than Black Friday. If any food remains out for more than two hours, I would not recommend saving it as a leftover. The combination of time and temperature can allow bacteria to form, so it is best to discard at that point. If do have leftovers, they should be consumed within four days. In my house with four boys and one husband, that's a pipe dream.

For additional food safety tips visit foodsafety.gov, the US Food & Drug Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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