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Health department offers food safety tips – Petoskey News

CHARLEVOIX — Local Health Departments across Northern Michigan are teaming up with United States Department of Agriculture to provide tips and resources for safe food preparation during the Thanksgiving holiday. With the number of things that can go wrong in the home kitchen, steering clear of food safety blunders can be challenging. A few simple steps can ensure family and guests get a delicious home-cooked meal and not holiday food poisoning.

“Thanksgiving dinner is one of the largest meals we prepare each year,” said Brandon Morrill, food program coordinator for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. “Cutting corners can put your family and guests at risk for food-borne illness, by forgetting a few basic food safety principles, such as washing your hands after handling the raw turkey and using a food thermometer to be sure its cooked to 165 degrees.”

Food poisoning is a serious public health threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of people suffer from food-borne illness each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Recent USDA research found that one in three Americans may have someone at high risk for food-borne illness in their home.

“Most food-borne illnesses can be avoided if you follow a few simple guidelines,” Morrill said. “These can keep your family and guests safe this holiday season.”

The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. Hand washing is especially important when handling raw meats. However, in a recent USDA study, participants failed to wash their hands sufficiently a shocking 97 percent of the time. Without proper hand washing, a well-intentioned, home cook could quickly spread bacteria around the kitchen.

Stuffers should remember to wash their hands before and after seasoning your bird. Almost half the study participants contaminated their spice containers when seasoning poultry. Anyone that has handled a raw turkey, should make sure to wash their hands completely before seasoning, and if those spices are rubbed on the bird by hand, wash hands completely afterwards.

Do not rinse or wash the turkey. Doing so can spread bacteria around the kitchen, contaminating countertops, towels and other food. Washing poultry doesn’t remove bacteria from the bird. Only cooking the turkey to the correct internal temperature will ensure all bacteria are killed.

Don’t rely on those pop-up thermometers to determine if your turkey is safe. Take the bird’s temperature with a food thermometer in three areas — the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh — make sure all three locations reach 165 degrees. If one of those locations does not register at 165 degrees, then continue cooking until all three locations reach the correct internal temperature. In recent USDA research, 88 percent of participants did not cook their poultry to the safe internal cooking temperature of 165 degrees.

When stuffing is cooked inside the turkey’s cavity, it must be checked with a food thermometer and reach 165 degrees as well. The density of stuffing can mean that while the turkey’s breast, wing and thigh have registered 165 degrees, the stuffing temperature can lag behind. Undercooked stuffing is a common cause of holiday food poisoning. Turkeys are tricky enough, so it’s easier to keep things simple and cook the stuffing outside the bird.

Everyone loves to graze during Thanksgiving, but when perishable food sits at room temperature, it is sitting in a temperature range where bacteria love to multiply. This range, between 40 and 140 degrees, is known as the “danger zone.” If foods have been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, they should be discarded.

For more information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854 to talk to a food safety expert from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Live chat is available at during the hotline’s hours of operation.

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