Prevent Food Borne Illness This Holiday Season with Food Safety Tips from UDAF

By Jay Schvaneveldt
Food Safety Program Manager, UDAF


During the holiday season families and friends get together in large groups to spend time together and eat.  It is also time to remember Food Safety in the home kitchen in preventing family and friends from getting sick from foodborne illness. Big giant turkeys make for wonderful family meal.  Big giant turkeys also harbor bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter.


Refrigeration, Storage, Thawing, Proper hand hygiene, careful preparation steps to avoid cross contamination and adequate cooking are all very important steps to prevent a food borne illness in the home.


1. Thawing and Refrigeration

The bacteria in the Turkey are dormant in its frozen state. Thawing the turkey on the kitchen counter or sink will allow the harmful bacteria to multiply to very dangerous numbers.  Even though the turkey may still be frozen in the middle, the outside portion that is already thawed will reach temperatures in the danger zone and the bacteria will get out of hand.  Thawing should be done in a refrigerator with temperatures less than 41 F or in the sink under running cold water.  It is important to know that it may take several days for larger turkeys to thaw in the fridge.


During the holidays a home fridge can become overloaded, so it is important to have a thermometer inside the fridge to make sure it is less than 41 F.  Thawing should be done in a protected container that can catch the drippings.  The storage is important.  Most refrigerators have the produce drawers in the bottom of the fridge and you do not want the juices from that turkey to contaminate the fresh vegetables going into that veggie tray.


2. Improper hand washing

Dirty contaminated hands are one of the main factors contributing to food borne illness.  Just removing the raw turkey from its packaging and rinsing the hands under the faucet could cause problems. Now the contaminated hands are spreading the bacteria all over the kitchen from the faucet handles, kitchen equipment and other foods.  Proper hand washing is essential to removing the harmful bacteria from hands. 


3. Cross contamination during processing

Everything the raw turkey is in contact with needs to be cleaned and sanitized.  The sink, counter top, cutting block, knives, bowls, plates, wiping cloth etc. need to be properly cleaned and sanitized.  On Turkey day there are a lot of other dishes being prepared at the same time so it is crucial to make sure the bacteria from that turkey stays clear of the other menu items. Wiping cloths are another common vehicle for spreading bacteria around the kitchen.  Switch out your wiping cloths or soak them in a sanitizer solution.


4. Cooking

Poultry needs to be cooked to 165 F.  This temperature will kill any harmful bacteria in the meat. The turkey should be checked with a proper thermometer in the thickest portion of the breast.  Turkey stuffing contaminated by raw portions of the turkey also needs to reach 165 F in the center of the stuffing to ensure that all of the bacteria in the stuffing are destroyed.


If the home consumer can be educated in these four areas and follow proper food safety procedures, then contaminated chicken can be made safe.