“Food temperature is also important,” ThurdeKoos said. “If a food is intended to be served hot, make sure to cook it fully before serving it. On the other hand, if a food is intended to be served cold, keep it cold.” “Never let cold food sit out for an extended period of time. If you’re serving cold pasta salad, store it in a refrigerator or a cooler and put it out on the table right before the food is served.”
According to ThurdeKoos, another effective technique to avoid foodborne illness is to buy a good meat thermometer and use it to make sure that meat is cooked to its appropriate temperature. She says when preparing a turkey, the minimum internal temperature must reach 165° F for safety. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, cook meats until the juices run clear.
Cooks taking on turkey preparation are just a phone call away from advice at the USDA meat and poultry hotline, 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). The hotline operates Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, and will operate on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET. Consumers can also “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day, at AskKaren.gov.
Large meals and a probable volume of leftovers mean consumers should do some advance preparation to get the kitchen “food safe” for the holiday. ThurdeKoos recommends the following:
- Size up refrigerator space and refrigerator temperature. Make sure you have sufficient space and plan your menu accordingly. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is indeed at or below 40° F.
- Plan your thaw. The safest way to thaw a whole turkey is in the refrigerator, so allow 24 hours thawing for each 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.
- Have one or more food thermometers on hand. You will need to measure the temperature of your turkey, other meats, seafood, side dishes and casseroles. You should use a conventional thermometer, even if your turkey has a pop-up indicator.
- Have plenty of paper towels or clean cloth towels on hand for cleaning of surfaces, drying hands, and for blotting dry fresh fruits and vegetables after rinsing. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washer.
- Make sure you have shallow storage containers with lids on hand for safely storing leftovers within two hours of dinner.
- If guests offer to contribute a dish to the festivities, ask them to bring items that don’t require refrigeration, such as bread, rolls, beverages or cookies and cakes without cream or egg fillings.
- Plan to have a cooler on hand full of ice where you can keep beverages, freeing up refrigerator space and helping to avoid having guests going in and out of the refrigerator during meal preparation.