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Better Ask Barry: Food safety tips for Thanksgiving

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Salinas, Calif. (KION) A Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings is a time-honored tradition for many families, but if you don’t prepare the meal properly, you can contaminate an entire kitchen and expose guests to foodborne illnesses.

Shopping for the perfect turkey was the easy part. The real challenge is preparing it properly and safely.

This Thanksgiving follows a 16-month, nationwide salmonella outbreak blamed on raw turkey products.

The outbreak ended in March, but should be a warning for consumers.

"Diarrhea, fever, chills, you can end up in the hospital and unfortunately end up dying from some of these," explained Chris Bernstein of the USDA.

Salmonella and campylobacter are the two types of bacteria found in the guts of many turkeys.

To protect yourself and guests, experts recommend you wash your hands after handling the turkey, but don’t wash or rinse the bird.

"Recent USDA research found that when individuals wash meat or poultry, they end up spreading germs in much greater levels all around the kitchen including into food that may be served," said Bernstein.

Food safety experts suggest you invest in a good meat thermometer.  The pop-up thermometers that come with frozen turkeys aren’t enough.

"You want to make sure you cook that turkey to a full 165 degrees throughout the bird,” said Bernstein. “Because it's so large it can cook unevenly, so you need to take that temperature in three places:  the thickest part of the breast, the inner-most part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing."

Experts also warn:

  • Never partially cook a turkey and then transport it elsewhere to finish cooking
  • Never stuff a turkey the night before
  • Never thaw the bird on the counter. Instead, thaw it in your fridge or in cold water.

The USDA does not recommend stuffing a turkey at all because it takes so much longer to cook and the stuffing must also reach a temperature of 165 degrees to ensure bacteria is cooked out. 

Food safety experts say you don't have to worry about cross-contamination if you cook the stuffing separately.

There is a lot to remember for Thanksgiving dinner. Keep food safety in mind. You’ll be thankful you did.

Family / Food / Holidays / Top Stories

Barry Brown

Barry Brown is an anchor and reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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