With all the prepping, cooking, cleaning and shopping we all do to prepare for Thanksgiving at home, there’s one thing that’s often missing — and that’s an understanding of food safety principles that can prevent foodborne illness.
According to Patrick Guzzle, vice president, food science at the Washington, DC-based National Restaurant Association, research shows that, while consumers are confident they know how to safely handle raw meat, only half know the proper internal temperature for cooked poultry, like chicken and turkey.
To combat these mistakes — and so you can enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers safely — the organization, along with ServSafe, suggest the following.
Don’t leave food out for more than four hours
Put away food quickly once the meal is complete to ensure harmful bacteria doesn’t start to grow. More than two-thirds of consumers are unaware of this time cap, with 57% thinking the max time is two hours, resulting in food waste, and 13% leaving food out for too long.
This includes keeping raw meats separate from other foods and cleaning surfaces between prepping each dish. Additionally, you should consider if any guests have food allergies and how you’re going to manage those. According to Association research, more than three in four people don’t know the most common allergens and more than half don’t know that peanuts are an allergen. Foods that contain a food allergen should also be prepared in a way that prevents cross contact.
Hold food at the right temperature so bacteria cannot grow to unsafe levels
Keep hot food hot (135°F or 57°C or higher) and cold food cold (41°F or 5°C or lower). Data from the National Restaurant Association shows that only one-third of consumers know that 41°F is the maximum holding temperature for potentially hazardous foods.
Wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water
Insist that guests offering to help prepare food or bring dishes out to the dining table wash their hands as well and use clean utensils for serving food.
Cooked foods can be stored in the refrigerator for seven days but indefinitely in the freezer
It’s important to remember that foods, especially meat, will experience freezer burn after some time and not taste as good. If purchasing a pre-cooked turkey, put it in the refrigerator as close to Thanksgiving as possible. The seven-day rule applies as soon as the meat defrosts, so this will help maximize the seven days after Thanksgiving.