You may have cherished memories of holiday meals with friends and family. If you’re preparing a memorable holiday meal of your own, make food safety a priority so guests don’t remember it for all the wrong reasons.
Hosting a holiday meal often means having more people at the table, serving a wider variety of dishes and perhaps tackling some unfamiliar recipes. If you’re not careful, all those ingredients can add up to foodborne illness, says Londa Nwadike, food safety specialist for University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State University Research and Extension.
With Thanksgiving coming up, Nwadike offers these safety tips for those planning to prepare a traditional turkey dinner.
“Frozen turkey must be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water, not on the kitchen counter,” warns Nwadike. If thawing in cold water, change the water every 30 minutes so the outer layer of turkey won’t get warm enough to support microbial growth.
Don’t rinse turkey and other meats before cooking. “That will only spread those germs around the sink, which can cross-contaminate other foods,” she says. “Any bacteria that might be rinsed off the surface would be easily killed by cooking in the oven.”
To determine if the turkey is safely cooked, use a food thermometer to make sure the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast has reached a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
To stuff or not to stuff
“Many people love to eat stuffing. Unfortunately, microorganisms love it as well,” Nwadike said.
The safest method is to cook stuffing outside the bird. If you do choose to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely just before cooking and make sure the stuffing is moist. Like the turkey, stuffing should be cooked to at least 165 F.
Side dishes and desserts
Egg dishes: Any dishes containing eggs, such as escalloped corn, should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 F.
Raw produce: Don’t chop foods that will be eaten raw on the same cutting boards you use for raw meats without washing the boards thoroughly between uses.
If produce is not pre-rinsed, rinse carefully and scrub off any visible soil with a produce brush.
Pumpkin pie: Baked goods with fillings made of eggs and milk, including pumpkin pies and cheesecake, need to reach an internal temperature of at least 160 F. Refrigerate after baking or purchase.
Refrigerate the turkey (with meat removed from the carcass) and stuffing separately in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Leftover turkey will keep in the fridge for three to four days, but gravy and stuffing will only keep for one or two days. You can also safely freeze leftovers, but use them within two to six months for best quality. Reheat leftovers to 165 F.
For more MU Extension resources on food safety, go to missourifamilies.org/foodsafety and extension.missouri.edu/preservation.