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Five tips to avoid food poisoning

Health officials see rise in foodborne illnesses at holidays

By Patrick McCreless, The State
Published: November 15, 2023, 6:02am

Thanksgiving is a time when many Americans gather with family and friends to enjoy home-cooked meals.

And it’s an opportunity to unintentionally get a foodborne illness from improperly made dishes.

Turkey is considered the entree of choice for many Thanksgiving meals each year. However, it is also a potential source of food poisoning, such a salmonella infections.

“There are a least three tasty options for cooking a holiday turkey,” Samantha Houston, Clemson Cooperative Extension Service food systems and safety agent in Lexington, said in an online post. “These are roasting, smoking and frying. It is important to make sure a turkey is fully cooked before it is eaten to avoid salmonella or other bacteria-related infections.”

Julie Northcutt, professor in the Clemson department of food, nutrition and packaging sciences, said in an online post that health officials see a rise in foodborne illnesses around the holidays.

“Most of us are very busy at the holidays, with friends or relatives visiting us as we cook, but we need to be mindful of where the dangers are when handling raw food, like meat and poultry,” Northcutt said. “You wouldn’t want your holiday or someone else’s to be ruined by a foodborne illness, especially when they are so easy to prevent. No one should ever eat meat without properly cooking, properly holding and correctly storing it.”

Here are five tips to follow to avoid food poisoning this Thanksgiving.

Cook turkey properly

The color of meat and poultry does not indicate if they are safely cooked. Measure the internal temperature of cooked foods with a food thermometer. Cook all poultry to at least 165 degrees.

Thaw turkey correctly

Never thaw a turkey by leaving it on the counter.

“When a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature becomes unsafe even if the center is still frozen,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.

Germs can grow rapidly. Instead, thaw a turkey in a refrigerator or in cold water.

Avoid cross-contamination

Houston said it is important to prevent cross contamination when cooking poultry. Wash your hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry. Also, don’t let raw poultry touch ready-to-eat foods. And don’t put cooked foods on a plate that previously had raw poultry on it.

Cook stuffing safely

The CDC recommends cooking stuffing in a casserole dish, which makes it easy to see that it has been thoroughly cooked. If you do cook stuffing in your turkey, remember to add it just before cooking. And with either cooking method, use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees.

Taking care of leftovers

The CDC states that cooked turkey and side dishes can be preserved in a refrigerator for three to four days. In a freezer they can last three to four months.

Houston said that within two hours of cooking, place leftovers in shallow containers and put them in a freezer or refrigerator. Avoid placing large pots of leftovers in the refrigerator since it will likely take until the next day for such big amounts to cool.