Four simple steps to food safety at Thanksgiving

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

Every meal, every day provides us with the opportunity to apply the Four Simple Steps to Food Safety. However, the Thanksgiving meal is the perfect time to focus attention on food safety because there are usually more people involved in the food preparation and more distractions.

Here are the Four Simple Steps to Food Safety. Please apply them to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often

Wash your hands with hot soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food.

Use plastic or other nonporous cutting boards. These boards should be run through the dishwasher or washed in hot soapy water after each use. Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, change them often and wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Separate: Don't cross-contaminate

Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food to another. This is especially true when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart and in your refrigerator.

If possible, use a different cutting board for raw meat products. Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Cook: Cook to proper temperature

Use a clean meat thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked foods, to make sure meat, poultry, stuffing, casseroles, leftovers and other foods are cooked all the way through.

There are several types of meat thermometers available. The oven-proof types go directly into the food at the beginning of the cooking time and remain in the food. Instant-read and digital types are not intended to be inserted in the food for the entire cooking time but rather used periodically to check the internal temperature during cooking. Pop-up types are commonly found in poultry but may be purchased for other types of meat.

The accuracy of the thermometer can be verified by inserting at least two inches of the stem into boiling water. The boiling point of water is 212 degrees at sea level. The thermometer should read 212 degrees. Some thermometers can be recalibrated by turning the nut under the dial to adjust.

Placement of the thermometer is critical. In poultry insert the thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast but not touching bone. For beef, pork, lamb, veal and ham (roasts, steaks or chops) the thermometer should be inserted into the center of the thickest part, away from bone, fat and gristle. A whole turkey should be cooked to 180 degrees in the thigh for doneness. When roasting only a turkey breast the internal temperature must reach 170 degrees to be considered properly cooked. The center of stuffing should reach 165 degrees after stand time. Always wash the stem of the thermometer after each use in hot soapy water.

Between now and Nov. 19, come into the Extension Office and register for a free drawing for a digital kitchen thermometer.

Chill: Refrigerate promptly

Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours or sooner.

Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Remember a 20-pound turkey could take about four days to thaw in the refrigerator or around 11 hours in cold water.

When handling leftovers, divide them into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.

When you visit our office to register for the kitchen thermometer, plan to pick up two very useful, free publications: "Take the Guesswork Out of Roasting a Turkey," and "Fight BAC! Four Simple Steps to Food Safety."

The Extension office is in the Doors and Windows building at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 5 p.m.

Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.

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