Healthbeat: USDA food expert on Thanksgiving do’s and don’ts

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The pandemic is turning this Thanksgiving into one like no other in our lifetime. Since we’re strongly encouraged to just stay home, it’s causing a first in many households — cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

While we’re talking Thanksgiving, food safety should never take a holiday. It’s why health officials urge you to be extra careful in the kitchen and help prevent something that sickens millions of Americans each year.

The Thanksgiving feast is a mouth-watering meal so many of us look forward to each November. But since going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house to enjoy it may not be an option because of the pandemic, you might be stuck doing the cooking.

“If it’s the first time preparing the turkey, preparing the Thanksgiving meal, they can certainly feel a lot of pressure, definitely, especially this year,” said Laura Scott, a Food Safety Expert with the USDA.

Cooking the traditional meal means focusing first on safety. It starts with thawing the frozen turkey. Ideally, shift it from the freezer to the refrigerator and let it thaw 24 hours for every five pounds. If you’re already too late for that, use the cold water thawing method by putting the frozen turkey in an airtight bag and submerging it in cold water, changing out the water every 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Once thawed, get cooking.

“So, you make sure the turkey isn’t sitting at unsafe temperatures for too long and letting any bacteria develop that may get your family sick,” said Scott.

The USDA reports foodborne illness can be super serious, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. It’s why we’re urged to follow four simple steps of kitchen safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

“To clean, you want to make sure you’re washing your hands often and cleaning cooking surfaces in the kitchen. Separate means keeping raw meat separate from other foods. So using separate cutting boards and separate plates. Cook means cooking thoroughly and use a food thermometer to make sure that it’s cooked to a safe internal temperature and chill means promptly putting that food in the refrigerator once you’re done with the meal,” said Scott.

It is recommended to get your Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge within two hours after serving the meal.

Still have questions? Help is available for both the novice and experienced Thanksgiving meal cooks.

Just head to the USDA website and foodsafety.gov for the resources to get the food safety tips you need. You can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-674-6854.

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