Avoid Thanksgiving in ‘The Danger Zone’

Avoid food poisoning and contamination this Thanksgiving with proper food handling and preparation tips.

Thanksgiving cooks juggle oven and refrigerator space and try to time everything for the perfect meal. That means food is often being set out for too long at unsafe temperatures as they attempt to make it all come together in a timely fashion.

“The deck is not a refrigerator. Resist the temptation to set a few cold items outside on the deck or on a car in the garage,” warns Ann-Marie Shirley, registered dietician and Nutrition Services Educator at Utah Valley Hospital.

Shirley said those situations are rarely cool enough to meet proper refrigeration needs and won’t keep food out of the “danger zone.” The danger zone – 41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit – is not cold or hot enough to protect your meal.

“Turkey and stuffing cooked in the bird, need to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F to remove the bacteria that can cause salmonella,” said Shirley. “But you also need to remember cream pies and those creamy green bean and sweet potato casseroles can become dangerous if they sit out for too long without refrigeration, which needs to be below 41° F.”

Shirley recommends the USDA website for guidelines on how much turkey to buy, proper thawing methods and cooking temperatures.  

Food Safety Tips for a Health Holiday Meal

Here are her tips to make sure everyone has a safe, successful and healthy holiday meal:

  1. Keep the kitchen and your hands clean and sanitized. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Just rinsing won’t kill salmonella and if you don’t keep the work surfaces and sink sanitized, you risk cross-contamination with other foods.
  2. Think ahead. Be sure that there will be enough oven, freezer, and refrigerator and stove top space. It is fine to leave something off the menu if it cannot be prepared safely.
  3. Use coolers and ice. Coolers are a staple at summer parties – don’t forget to have them ready with ice for Thanksgiving preparation as well. Coolers help keep food in the safe zone until it is time to eat or bake and also send leftovers home at a safe temperature.
  4. Have containers ready for leftovers. If you have the containers lined up for storing leftovers, you will be more inclined to get up and put the food away. Leaving the food out for “grazing” can lead to bacteria and increased chances of getting sick.
  5. Plan when everything will cook. The top priority is cooking everything thoroughly and keeping it out of the danger zone. Consider cooking some dishes in advance so they only need re-heating which will keep the oven free for the turkey and rolls. Reheat foods to 165° F.
  6. Use a food thermometer. This takes the guess work out of the preparation and reduces the cooks stress about serving a safe meal.

These simple steps can help keep your friends and family safe from diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that can ruin the holidays. You will need to figure out for yourself how to stop them from getting elevated blood pressure and heart burn from the almost certain, post-election political discussions.