Thanksgiving is approaching, a wonderful holiday that usually includes a
delicious meal. However, this season, you don’t want dinner to turn your
celebration into a bout with sickness.
University of Tennessee Extension Family and Consumer Sciences experts offer the following tips regarding food safety and Thanksgiving – especially in cooking your food and storing leftovers.
Food safety starts before the holiday. Turkeys need to be properly thawed in cold water for several days in the refrigerator. How long the bird is thawed is based on the bird’s weight.
“Store it in the refrigerator. Don’t store it where it’s going to drip on your fresh fruits and vegetables, but down low in your refrigerator so it can just thaw for three to four days, five days possibly,” says Dr. Janie Burney, a nutrition specialist with UT Extension.
Burney says turkey, like any meat, needs to be cooked thoroughly. Ideally you’d like it to reach a temperature of 165 degrees, and you can test that with a kitchen thermometer, measuring the thickest part of the thigh. Then it’s okay for turkey to set out about 20 minutes to help finish the cooking and distribute the juices.
Then at most holiday meals – after an initial wave of eating – many
people leave the leftovers out for a while, and everyone can pick and nibble
again when they’re hungry. However, after just a short while, food left out in
the open becomes your greatest potential source for food sickness.
Burney recommends you don’t wait too long to refrigerate foods high in protein like turkey and gravy, and also fruits that have been cut open. “It really needs to go in the refrigerator within two hours because that gives bacteria time enough to begin growing if you don’t refrigerate or freeze it within the two hours,” she says.
Leftovers are fine for three to four days in the refrigerator, but
choose shallow containers, two inches or less in height. “So using a shallow
container, slice your meat off the bone instead of putting in the whole breast.
Slice it up so that it will cool much faster,” Burney says.
UT Extension experts say the danger zone for leftover foods is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Foods should be stored colder and, if desired, served warmer than those readings to be considered safe to eat.