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Keeping the holidays full of cheer

Posted 12/2/2015

The holidays are the perfect time for family get-togethers and spreading holiday cheer. But the holidays can also be the perfect time for spreading something not so cheerful—foodborne illness! Foodborne illness is the disease that results from the ingestion of foods containing toxins or microorganisms.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness include vomiting, diarrhea and flu-like symptoms. They can start anywhere from a couple hours to days after consuming a contaminated food or drink. Foodborne illness can be avoided by using proper food handling techniques. Everyone, from farmers to markets, to food preparers, to homemakers have a role to keep food as safe as possible. To keep your holiday foods safe at home, follow the simple steps outlined here:

THAWING: NEVER thaw a turkey or any other food on the countertop! Place your frozen bird in its original wrapper in the refrigerator (40 degreesF). Allow approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey. Once the turkey is completely thawed, keep it refrigerated for no more than 2 days. If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don’t panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey.

STUFFING: Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the bird right before you put it in the oven. You can prepare the wet ingredients of the stuffing separate from the dry ingredients the day ahead and keep them refrigerated, but don’t mix them until you are ready to stuff the turkey. Stuff the turkey loosely—about 3/4 cups of stuffing per pound of meat. Never purchase a fresh turkey that has been pre-stuffed (frozen is ok, but don’t thaw before cooking).

COOK: COOK TO PROPER TEMPERATURES: Proper cooking will kill bacteria. Get a food thermometer and learn to use it. Measure the temperature of the cooked turkey in the fleshy part of the thigh. It should be 180 degrees F. Stuffing should reach a temperature of 165 degreesF. When using a microwave for cooking, rotate food or stir occasionally during cooking to ensure all areas have been heated thoroughly. Bring sauces, soups, gravy, and marinades to a boil when reheating. Heat leftovers thoroughly to 165 degrees F.

CHILL: REFRIGERATE PROMPTLY: Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Set your refrigerator no higher than 40 degrees F, and the freezer at 0 degrees F. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within two hours of use or sooner. Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Allow air to circulate freely in the refrigerator. In other words, don’t over-pack it. Leftover turkey and stuffing should be used within three or four days, gravy within one or two days. Make sure you reheat the foods to 165 degreesF before eating.

Foodborne illness is no fun and it can be very dangerous, but by using common sense and safe food handling procedures, you can avoid foodborne illness, and reap the healthful benefits of all your favorite foods—and keep the holidays a joyful time! For more information on food safety, or to receive a Talking about Turkey booklet, call the Cooperative Extension at 702-222-3130.

Email or call Susan Lednicky, nutritionist, at 702-257-5548.

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