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FOR RELEASE: November 20, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Prevent Foodborne Illness This Holiday Season

For many Oklahomans, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to see loved ones while enjoying homemade foods. To avoid letting a foodborne illness spoil the festivities, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) encourages holiday cooks to pay special attention to the handling, preparation, and cooking of foods during the upcoming holiday season.

Because holidays present a number of unique food safety challenges, consumers should take appropriate precautions to ensure that holiday foods are safe. People at the highest risk of being affected by foodborne illness - the elderly, children, and individuals with weakened immune system, including pregnant women - should be especially mindful of the potential risk of foodborne illness.

The OSDH suggests the following food safety tips to enjoy your holiday season:

Clean: Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food and wash food-contact surfaces often. Cross-contamination can occur when foods are prepared on the same surfaces or with the same tools, allowing the transfer of illness-causing bacteria from one food to another. Wash 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.

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate and let bacteria cross from one food product to another. This is especially true for raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep raw meats and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods such as uncooked fruits and vegetables.

Cook: Cook foods to proper temperatures.

Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly. Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked often with a thermometer.

Tips for Preparing Turkey

Thawing: Fresh and frozen turkeys are equally safe as long as they are correctly handled and stored. It is important to allow enough time for a frozen turkey to defrost. If a turkey is not properly thawed, the outside might be cooked before the inside, and the inside will not become hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria. There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, the microwave oven, and submerging in cold water. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. If thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes defrosting per pound of turkey and change the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water ensures that the turkey is kept cold, an important factor for slowing bacterial growth that may occur on the outer thawed portions while the inner areas are still thawing. When using a microwave, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing.

Cooking: When the temperature of the poultry (as measured in the thigh) has reached 180F, there is usually no other site in the bird lower than the safe temperature of 160F. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the correct internal temperature is reached. A meat thermometer should be used even in turkeys that have "pop-up" temperature indicators to ensure a safe temperature of 180 degrees F. The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey. If you choose to stuff the turkey, it must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to ensure safety. When the turkey is done, remember to check the stuffing with a meat thermometer to make sure it has reached the proper temperature. The following table provides the estimated times to cook a turkey based on weight.

Safe handling of leftovers: Put prepared foods and leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours. Split leftovers into small, shallow containers and cool them in the refrigerator. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days, and gravy within one to two days. Gravy should be reheated to a boil and leftovers, if heated, should be thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees F.

State health officials note that this year, reports about avian (bird) influenza in Asia and other countries may prompt some questions among Oklahoma’s consumers about the safety of eating turkey, chicken and other poultry. Public health officials emphasize that bird flu is not present in the U.S. and persons cannot get bird flu by eating poultry.

If you have questions about foodborne illnesses or food safety, call your local county health department or visit the Communicable Disease Division Web site at www.health.ok.gov/program/cdd/index.html.

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