Food safety prevents illness during the holidays

November 24, 2012

An estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year in the U.S. Contact between raw poultry and ready-to-eat food is one of the most common mistakes during meal preparation at home, said Ralph Matthews, manager of the Division of Public Health's Office of Food Protection.

Consumers are advised to always use soap and warm water to wash hands, and to thoroughly clean and sanitize the sink, cutting boards, utensils and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices. Start with soap and hot water (at least 110 degrees F), scrubbing to remove food debris and oils before rinsing. Then sanitize with a mixture of one teaspoon bleach to one gallon of water.

DPH offers the following tips to help Delawareans prepare holiday meals in a delicious and safe way:

Those buying a fresh turkey should purchase it only 1-2 days prior to cooking and make sure it remains refrigerated until ready to cook.

Avoid fresh pre-stuffed turkeys because harmful bacteria can grow in the stuffing.

Be sure to have a roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey and a food thermometer.

In the refrigerator, allow approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey for thawing. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Under cold running water (70 degrees F or below), completely submerge bird in the original wrapper to thaw; cook immediately after thawing  and do not refreeze.

In the microwave, remove outside wrapping and place on a microwave-safe dish. Do not refreeze or refrigerate after thawing in the microwave.

For cooking, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey, preferably in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F throughout the bird. Do not depend on the color of the meat to determine if the bird is thoroughly cooked. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.

Any turkey, stuffing or gravy needs refrigeration within two hours of cooking. Use separate shallow containers. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within seven days or freeze these foods.

Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees F or until hot and steaming.

For more information on holiday food preparation, go to

Delaware Health and Social Services is committed to improving the quality of the lives of Delaware's citizens by promoting health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency and protecting vulnerable populations.

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