By Senior Airman Eileen padilla
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — When most people think about Thanksgiving, the first things that comes to mind for most are food, family and football.
But one thing that should be on top of everyone’s priority list is food safety. Meat and poultry, the centerpiece of many holiday feasts, if not prepared correctly, can cause food-borne illnesses.
U.S. federal statistics show that millions of people become ill from food-borne diseases, and as many as 5,000 die each year as a result of micro-organisms in food.
Last minute consumers purchase frozen turkeys and expect them to be thawed out completely by Thanksgiving. Thawing a turkey is the most important step considering that not thawing it properly can be very dangerous, and even stuffing the bird can cause your guests to become ill.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends allowing 24 hours of thaw time per five pounds of turkey. Ensure that the meat being thawed is placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in a tray to prevent cross contamination. Submerging turkeys under running cold water and microwaving are some other ways to thaw the turkey. When microwaving, ensure you place meat in a conventional oven right away.
Other ways to prevent cross contamination are to use two separate cutting boards; one for dealing with raw meats and poultry and another for cutting fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid using the same cutting knife and wash hands thoroughly after handling any raw meats. Before serving, insert a thermometer internally and ensure it reaches 155°F for 15 seconds. In addition, ensure cooking and food preparation areas are cleaned and sanitized before and after use.
For stuffing lovers, there are added risks, as stuffing a turkey can cause it not to cook thoroughly. Cook the stuffing in a separate dish or pack it loosely so it can cook accurately. If you still plan on adding stuffing for flavor, add an additional 30 minutes to the cooking time.
Vegetables, such as leafy greens, need to be washed as well since bacteria can grow on the surface. Some common food-borne illnesses that are caused from vegetables are E. Coli and Salmonella.
For further food tips and safety, log on to www.fsis.fda.gov or visit your local Public Health, and have a safe and healthy holiday.