Health Topic Categories

- Hygiene -

January 10th, 2019

Holiday Food Health and Hygiene Tips

No one wants a holiday dinner spoiled by a trip to the emergency room for a burn or food poisoning.  That is why the Erie County Medical Society is eager to offer the following holiday food health tips in the hope that they help you enjoy your holidays to the fullest.


Safe Thawing

Holiday turkeys present an unusual hazard because their great size vastly increases the length of time needed for thawing.  The bacteria within the fowl were safely arrested in their multiplication while the turkey was frozen.  But the bacteria begin to multiply when any part of the bird reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The longer it takes the rest of the turkey to thaw, the more time these bacteria have to multiply to dangerous levels.  Dangerous bacterial multiplication occurs when the turkey thaws on the counter or in warm water.  The bacteria continue to multiply until the turkey reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven.


So, for safe thawing begin four or five days early and thaw the turkey in the refrigerator so that it thaws without any part of the turkey reaching 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The other choices are thawing the turkey in COLD water or in the microwave, provided that microwave oven size and absence of metal allow.


Safe Preparation 

Bacteria on and in the turkey cease multiplying and die when the turkey reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven, but not the bacteria transferred from the turkey to the chef’s hands, the work surface, or to the kitchen utensils.  These continue to multiply and are transferred to subsequent foods, some of which may not require cooking.


Safe food preparation requires thorough washing of hands, work surfaces, and kitchen utensils immediately after working with raw poultry.


Safe Stuffing

Because of the large turkey size, the interior may have difficulty reaching a bacterial kill temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Therefore, it is far better to cook stuffing outside the turkey.


If stuffing is cooked inside the turkey, it is imperative not to insert the stuffing until immediately before cooking and to use a properly calibrated food thermometer inserted to the center of the stuffing and consistently reading at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 


A food thermometer’s calibration can be readily checked by placing the end of the thermometer in the center of a pot of slowly and evenly boiling distilled water.  If the temperature reads between 210 and 214 degrees Fahrenheit, the thermometer is properly calibrated.  


Safe Cooking

The turkey should be completely thawed and then placed in an oven set to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  The fowl should be breast-side up on a wire rack in a shallow roasting pan.  The inside temperature at the center of the stuffing (if present), breast, thigh, and wing should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit as determined by a food thermometer.  A food thermometer is essential as color and texture are not reliable indicators of thorough cooking.


Safe Serving  

A disposable aluminum baking pan is too weak to support a heavy holiday turkey.  It is prone to bend in the middle, spilling hot grease on the server.  Grease can attain high temperatures and cause severe burns.  A disposable aluminum baking pan is best supported by placing it in a conventional heavy gauge metal baking pan to prevent unfortunate bending and spillage.


The Erie County Medical Society encourages you to incorporate these tips into your holiday planning and sincerely wishes you happy holidays with safe and delicious holiday meals.


Thomas Falasca, DO

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