From the moment the Thanksgiving turkey is carved until the clink of champagne glasses on New Year’s Eve, Americans will celebrate the holidays with food.
LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu said it could be tempting to cut corners with food preparation, but she emphasized that holidays are not a time to neglect food safety.
“We have so much to do during the holidays, but we can’t forget about food safety,” Xu said. “And it is easy if we remember to clean, separate, cook and chill.”
Xu said to clean and sanitize surfaces, utensils, raw produce and, of course, your hands. One step to skip is rinsing a raw turkey. “If you rinse it, you can splash the bacteria from the poultry all over the kitchen,” she said.
She also said to separate cutting boards, serving dishes and utensils used for raw food from cooked foods to avoid cross contamination.
It is best to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator for several days instead of on the countertop, Xu said.
When the time comes to cook the turkey, don’t go by how it looks. Use a meat thermometer.
“Check the temperature in multiple parts of the turkey: the thigh, the thickest part of the breast and under the wing,” she said.
A turkey should be cooked to 165 degrees. If you cook stuffing inside the turkey, make sure the temperature in the middle of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees, Xu said, adding it is safer to cook stuffing separately.
The last part of the food safety equation is chill. Leftovers should not be left out to linger over. Bacteria can grow between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees, she said.
“Refrigerate leftovers in small, shallow containers,” Xu said. Leftovers should be put away within two hours of cooking.
Those who make homemade eggnog should use a pasteurized egg mixture to avoid foodborne illness from consuming raw eggs, Xu said. And if you make cookies for Santa, don’t consume the raw dough.