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Public Health: The harvest feast

Public Health: The harvest feast

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Thanksgiving is historically a time of gathering with family and friends to celebrate the abundance of the harvest. Today, we face the challenge of celebrating while keeping our families and friends safe from foodborne illness as well as COVID-19.

No matter how small or virtual your gathering is this year, it’s a good time to remind everybody of the safe ways to handle ingredients that make up our yearly feast.

First, when purchasing food, don’t forget to wear your mask and use hand sanitizers. Make sure to purchase an accurate food thermometer, if you don’t have one.

Also, plan ahead so the grocery store is the last stop before you head home. It’s very important to keep cold foods at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit to keep bacteria from growing. November is not usually the time we have to worry about temperatures being too warm, however, it’s a good habit to develop.

Thawing is the first step in preparation of your Thanksgiving feast. It can take days to thaw a turkey, so allow at least 24 hours for every four to five pounds of frozen weight. Prepare a safe place in your refrigerator for the turkey (or any raw meats) and place it in a pan or other container to catch any juices. Do not allow raw meat juices to drip on produce and ready-to-eat foods.

On the day of cooking, clean and sanitize kitchen counters, sinks and cutting boards prior to removing the turkey or other meat from the fridge. Then wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Make sure that you are separating ready-to-eat foods from raw meats in the refrigerator, and in preparation.

Wash counters, cutting boards, knives and other utensils after use to prevent cross contamination to the next foods being prepared. Keep your hands clean – wash them often.

Custard pies and cream filled desserts require refrigeration. Make sure you have enough space for storage.

To stuff the turkey, or not to stuff the turkey, that is the next question.

The safest way to cook stuffing is in a casserole dish. If you choose to stuff the turkey, then the stuffing needs to be prepared immediately before the turkey is ready to go in the oven. Place the stuffing loosely in the turkey. All stuffing, whether in a casserole dish or in the turkey, must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat. The turkey must reach 165 degrees as well.

It is recommended to take the temperature of the turkey at the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. Use an accurate food thermometer to monitor temperatures.

How do you know if your thermometer is accurate? Fill a glass with ice and add water and your thermometer. The temperature reading of ice water should be 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s off, follow the directions on your brand of thermometer for calibrating.

Always store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Remove all stuffing and carve the turkey to allow for faster cooling. It’s ideal to get the temperature of cooling food below 70 degrees Fahrenheit in two hours, and at or below 41 degrees in another four hours. To aid in the cooling process, place food in shallow containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer. When reheating, always warm leftovers to over 165 degrees and eat immediately.

We know that 2020 has been a year of challenges. We’re thankful for the community support and continued efforts in fighting against COVID-19.

From the entire staff at Lewis and Clark Public Health, we wish you all a safe and healthy Thanksgiving.

Laurel Riek, registered sanitarian at Lewis and Clark Public Health.


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Jason Eugene Brandle was unexpectedly called home to the Lord on Saturday, November 14, 2020. He will be incredibly missed by his loved ones.

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