Q: It’s my turn to orchestrate our Thanksgiving meal. One holiday we all got ill from something we ate! Any tips for making sure that this doesn’t happen on my watch?
— Olivia, Los Osos
A: Follow these guidelines for a safe family feast.
Groceries: Keep fresh produce separate from meats in your shopping cart and grocery bags. If not returning home within an hour, keep perishables in a cooler. Refrigerate items promptly, keeping foods in appropriate containers to prevent drips and leaks.
Kitchen prep: Wash your hands, work surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water between each food prep step; never intermingle uncooked meats and ready to eat foods on the same surfaces.
Cooking the feast: Learn the danger zone of food temperatures. Foods kept at room temperature more than two hours can reach between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where harmful bacteria grow rapidly. Keep cold foods cold (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) until serving time and keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
The turkey: Buying a frozen turkey? Safely thaw in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every four pounds of bird. You can thaw it more quickly in a sink of cold water that you change every 30 minutes. (Cold water prevents the poultry’s temperature from reaching the danger zone.)
Purchase a fresh turkey one to two days before cooking. Fresh or frozen, keep it on a tray to catch leaking juices. Do not rinse your turkey before cooking.
Temperature: Invest in a food thermometer. This is the only reliable indicator that your food is cooked to a safe temperature. A cooked turkey should register a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stuffing: Stuffing should also bake to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, whether as a separate casserole (recommended safest), or inside the turkey. If inside, stuff loosely – ¾ cup per pound of turkey – immediately before roasting.
Serving: Replace empty platters. Don’t add fresh food to empty platters; several hands may have taken food from the dish, which has been at room temperature. Do not let food stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Leftovers: Finally, store those yummy leftovers in small portions in shallow containers to cool quickly; eat or freeze within three to four days – within two days for gravy.
For more information about safe Thanksgiving preparations, www.fightbac.org/winter/thanksgiving/talking-turkey.