Thanksgiving is a time of celebration and family. For the fortunate, the tradition usually centers on a large banquet of food and beverages. Whether eating out or dining in, most consumers will not think twice about food safety before indulging in a smorgasbord of savory delights.
One would hope that whether eating in or out, the cooks have been diligent about food safety and preventing cross-contamination. Unsanitary food preparation can result in food poisoning: illness caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites, as well as toxins and contaminants. Foodsafety.gov is a great resource for double checking facts and finding information on the subject. Per the website, the four tenants of food safety are clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Food should be washed prior to eating, with the exception of meat, which the USDA does not recommend washing. Rinsing meat under water splashes bacteria all around the sink and counter area, where it can contaminate other foods. For fruits and veggies, a 1/3 part vinegar/water solution has been found 98% effective in a produce wash test. If you don’t wash your produce, it could contaminate the inside when sliced, since the bacteria – such as in the listeriosis cantaloupe outbreak – live on the outside.
Separate means keeping meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods at all times: in the grocery cart, in the refrigerator, on the counter, and when plating. In the refrigerator, raw food and meat should be stored in the lowest compartment to prevent drips or leaks on cooked foods. On the counter, raw meat and vegetables should have separate cutting boards and the veggies should be prepped first. Finally, always use a clean plate for cooked meat since raw meat juices or marinades will contaminate the cooked food.
To cook meat safely, it must be cooked to a minimum temperature that varies from around 145-165 °F. A meat thermometer must be used to test the internal temperature. Meat should never be left to thaw out on the counter, but instead defrosted in the refrigerator or microwave. Hot foods should be kept hot and not left out for more than 2 hours, and cold foods kept cold and kept on ice or under 40°F; keeping foods cold prevents the growth of bacteria. Meat and eggs should never be served undercooked.
More information on meat safety can be found on this website.
Following these food safety guidelines will help ensure that you and others have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving. Enjoy!