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For Release: Nov. 19, 2013 – 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.  Every year about one in six Americans becomes 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) recommends the following food safety tips:

  • Clean:  Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before preparing food and often during food preparation.  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:  Disease-causing germs can spread from raw food that should be cooked to other foods.  Use separate cutting boards to keep raw meats, poultry, seafood, 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 40oF and freezers at 0oF, and confirm the temperature with a thermometer.  Chill any leftovers promptly in shallow containers.  Discard any food left out more than two hours.
  • Ill:  If you have been sick with diarrhea or vomiting, do not prepare food for at least 24 hours after your symptoms have stopped.

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. A frozen turkey should not be left in the car trunk, on the back porch, in the basement, or any place else where temperatures cannot be maintained.

The three safest ways to thaw a turkey 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.  A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one or two days before cooking. 
  • 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. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing since some areas of the bird may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.
  • 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.   A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately.
  • Cooking: Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the correct internal temperature is reached.
    • The temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165oF.  Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
    • The safest way to cook stuffing is to cook in a separate casserole dish.  For stuffed turkeys, the internal temperature of the stuffing must reach 165oF 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 165oF.

For other safe holiday food preparation details, visit the OSDH Acute Disease Service website at http://ads.health.ok.gov, and click on “Seasonal Disease Topics,” then “Food Safety and Foodborne Diseases.”


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