Published 6: 40 AM EST Nov 27, 2019
You may be thankful there’s no major turkey salmonella scare this Thanksgiving, but health officials are still advising cooks take care in preparing the bird for the annual feast.
And, just as there was last year, concerns about E. coli bacteria and romaine lettuce could make leafy greens a troublesome ingredient for holiday salads.
Stores are supposed to have pulled from the shelves any romaine lettuce produced and harvested in Salinas, California. So far, 67 people in 19 states have been infected with a strain of E. coli linked to the lettuce, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Last Thanksgiving, cooks were told to keep all romaine lettuce off the menu for another E. coli outbreak.
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Also last year, health officials urged extra caution as the holiday season arrived amid a broadening turkey salmonella outbreak. The last reported illness attributed to that outbreak began on March 31, 2019. Eventually 358 people in 42 states were infected, with 133 hospitalized and one death reported, according to the CDC.
Food safety tips for Thanksgiving cooks
•Preparation. Do not thaw your turkey on the counter at room temperature, as bacteria can start growing at 40 degrees. Instead, put it in a container and thaw it in the refrigerator. You can also place it in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water. But you must change the water every 30 minutes. You can also thaw it in the microwave (follow your oven’s manufacturer instructions).
Also, do not wash raw turkeys prior to cooking – similar to advice the CDC issued back in May about chicken. Even though some older recipes suggest washing raw poultry or meat before cooking it, the CDC now recommends against it because washing does not prevent illness and can spread bacteria throughout the kitchen – to other foods, cooking utensils, and counter surfaces.
•Cooking. Set your oven temperature to at least 325 degrees. Cook the completely thawed turkey in roasting pan that is at least two inches deep. Cooking times vary; expect it to take at least three hours for an unstuffed turkey weighing eight to 12 pounds. A turkey breast can cook faster; larger, stuffed turkeys should cook longer. For a cooking table and thawing time chart go to the CDC’s Food Safety site.
If you cook stuffing in the turkey, put the stuffing in just prior to cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey – and the stuffing – has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees.
•Cleaning. A USDA study found that 60% of sinks were contaminated after handling raw poultry in the sink, so it is important to sanitize your sink and any other surfaces after handling the raw turkey – and before prepping other foods such as raw vegetables.
Health officials recommend washing surfaces first with soap and warm water, then with a chlorine bleach solution or an alcohol-based cleaner.
Also, wash your hands – a lot. In case you forgot how to wash your hands properly, the USDA reminds you: wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and lather your hands with soap, rubbing them together (remember to lather the backs of your hands, between fingers, and under your nails, too). Rinse only after scrubbing hands for 20 seconds and dry hands with a clean towel.
The bigger the meal, the bigger the safety risks, said Mindy Brashears, deputy under secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Washing hands properly, keeping the raw turkey away from other ingredients, cooking turkey to a safe internal temperature of 165°F, and promptly refrigerating all of our leftovers within 2 hours after mealtime are all ways we keep our meal safe,” she said in a notice earlier this week.
Yes, there are even safety guidelines for those coveted Thanksgiving Day leftovers. You should refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible, at least within two hours, health officials say. Bacteria can multiply rapidly when food drops below 140 degrees.
The bacteria that grows in cooked foods – especially poultry and gravy – at room temperature (Clostridium perfringens) is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning, and results in nearly 1 million cases of foodborne illness annually, the CDC says.
To cool meat faster, cut it into smaller pieces and refrigerate in small containers. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving, health officials say.
Have any questions on Thanksgiving Day – or any day during the holiday season – you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 on Thanksgiving Day between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET. (regularly Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET). You can also chat live at ask.usda.gov.
For more food safety tips, follow the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.