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For Release: Nov. 15, 2011 – Pamela Williams, Office of Communications – (405) 271-5601

Prevent Foodborne Illness This Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring opportunities to visit friends and family and enjoy homemade foods.  The holiday season also presents important food safety challenges, so everyone needs to plan ahead to make sure that holiday foods are safe.  It is estimated that every year, approximately 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) become ill with a foodborne illness.  

The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  Most illnesses are mild and only last a day or two; however, some are more serious, and lead to approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.  People at the highest risk of becoming very sick from a foodborne illness are the elderly, children, individuals with a weakened immune system, and pregnant women.  Persons in these high-risk groups should take all precautions to prevent foodborne illness.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) suggests these food safety tips:

  • Clean:  Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food and often during food preparation.  Wash surfaces in the food preparation area often. 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.  Remember to cover your cough when preparing and serving food.  Always wash your hands after using a tissue or coughing into your hands.
  • Separate:  Disease-causing germs can spread from raw food that should be cooked to other foods.  This is most important when preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood.  Use separate cutting boards to keep raw meats and their juices separate from uncooked fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook:  Always check the internal temperature of cooked meat, poultry and egg dishes with a food thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Chill:  Refrigerate foods promptly. When foods are left out unrefrigerated, harmful germs multiply quickly.  Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying.  Set refrigerators at 40 F and freezers at 0 F, and confirm the temperature with a thermometer.

Tips for Preparing and Reheating Turkey

  • Thawing:  Allow enough time for a frozen turkey to defrost. Incorrectly thawed turkey can look safe to eat but actually will be undercooked, allowing disease-causing germs to survive inside. The three safest ways to thaw food are 1) in the refrigerator, 2) in the microwave oven, or 3) by submerging in cold water. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.  When using a microwave, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of minutes per pound and the appropriate power level to use for thawing.  When thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey and change the water every 30 minutes.  Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.  Changing the water is important to keep the turkey cold, and slow the bacterial growth in the outer thawed portions while the inner areas continue to thaw. Remember that frozen turkey should not be left in the car trunk, on the back porch, in the basement, or anyplace else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.
  • Cooking: Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the correct internal temperature is reached. The thigh is the best place to insert the thermometer, making sure it does not touch the bone, which gives a false reading. When the thigh reaches 180 F, it is safe to assume that the rest of the bird has reached the bacteria-killing temperature of 165 F. The most reliable way to cook stuffing is separate from the turkey.  For stuffed turkeys, the internal temperature must reach 165 F before it is safe to eat.
  • Leftover food safety:  After the meal, refrigerate remaining foods and leftover turkey within two hours.  Split leftovers into smaller, shallow containers so they will cool quickly in the refrigerator.  Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days, and gravy within one to two days.  Reheat leftover gravy to a boil, and thoroughly reheat other leftovers to 165 F before eating.

For other safe food preparation details, see www.cdc.gov/features/turkeytime.  For additional information about health topics, please visit the OSDH website at www.health.ok.gov.

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