November 18, 2003
Hospital chef urges families to think first about food safety during the holiday season
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—The worst threat to your holiday dinner isn’t burnt rolls, dry turkey or lumpy mashed potatoes.
It’s the bacteria on your buffet.
That’s why Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide injury prevention program, is urging holiday hosts to handle food safely when preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts.
“Anytime food is improperly handled, you run the risk of giving your guests a food-borne illness,” cautions John Pelton, director of dietary services at the Jackson hospital. “So now’s a good time to make note of the proper methods for thawing, cooking and storing foods.”
Start by making sure your cooking area and tools are squeaky clean, he said. “Frequently washing hands and sanitizing countertops are very important in maintaining food safety.”
When you’re ready to thaw your turkey, Pelton recommends putting it in the refrigerator. “If you leave it on a countertop, the outer section of the turkey will thaw faster and be exposed to dangerously low temperatures. A temperature range between 40 F to 140 F favors the growth of bacteria such as E-coli and salmonella.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a thawing time of 24 hours for each 5 pounds of a whole turkey and keeping turkey refrigerated for only one to two days before baking it.
Pelton’s tips for a safe Thanksgiving are to:
- Use a meat thermometer to get the accurate temperature of the turkey. If the turkey is stuffed, use a thermometer to determine the temperature of the inside cavity. The temperature of a stuffed turkey should be 165 F and an unstuffed turkey should be a minimum of 180 F. Place the thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast without touching the bone.
- Cook stuffing separately if you do not have a thermometer. For safety, it's best not to stuff a turkey, but to bake the stuffing in a casserole in a 325 F oven. Dry ingredients can be mixed in advance. Perishables, such as mushrooms, oysters, butter, broth, cooked celery, and onions, should be refrigerated. The ingredients should be mixed immediately before stuffing the turkey or placing in a casserole dish.
- Pay attention to proper cooking temperature and time. Cooking a turkey for a long period of time at a low temperature may expose it to bacteria growth. The USDA recommends an oven temperature of no less than 325 F. The USDA recommends cooking fresh ham and pork roasts to medium (160 F) or well done (170 F). Beef, lamb roasts and veal should be cooked to medium rare (145 F), medium (160 F), or well done (170 F). Fresh game meats should reach 160 F throughout to kill food-borne bacteria and parasites. Whole game birds as well as domestically raised ducks, geese, capons, Cornish hens, and other chicken should be cooked to the same temperatures as a turkey.
Also be careful how you handle turkey after it comes out of the oven. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says more than half of food-poisoning outbreaks linked to turkey are caused by improper cooling or storage, rather than cooking. “All leftovers should be refrigerated in shallow containers within two hours of cooking because bacteria will multiply rapidly if left out for too long,” Pelton said.
Pelton recommends eating leftovers within three to four days and gravy within one to two days. Freeze any food that will not be eaten within this recommended time period and always reheat leftovers to a temperature of 165 F.
“When in doubt, throw leftovers out,” says Pelton. “It is always better to think first and to be safe than sorry.”
Weight and recommended cooking times:
8 to 12 lbs.—2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs.—3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 lbs.—3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 lbs.—4 ¼ to 41/2 hours
20 to 24 lbs.—4 ½ to 5 hours
8 to 12 lbs.—3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 lbs.—3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs.—4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 lbs.—4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 lbs.—4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours