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How To Spend Thanksgiving Not Barfing

Safety tip: do not, under any circumstances, put this on your head.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest piece written by Dr. Ben Chapman, an assistant professor and food safety expert at NC State.

My parents are coming to visit Raleigh this week – their first trek to the U.S. for Thanksgiving. I’m Canadian and, while Canada has its own festivities in October, there’s something different about the American celebration.

A Thursday event, followed by three days of recovery and constant football has vaulted Thanksgiving to the top of my holiday list. Hopefully the food, sports and chasing around two little kids doesn’t kill my mom and dad; it might be too much excitement for them to handle.

In Rob Gordonesque-fashion, a colleague and I came up with our top-5 tips for holiday food safety. You don’t want to spend your holiday barfing.

1. Never wash the Thanksgiving turkey. Research from the U.K. and elsewhere shows that washing turkey or chicken is an ideal way to spread dangerous bacteria throughout the kitchen or food preparation area. Washing under running water can spray surface contamination up to three feet away.

2. Never place a whole turkey over your head. While it may be a popular attempt at comedy in movies and television shows like “Mr. Bean” or “Friends,” do not inspect the internal cavity of the turkey by placing it over your head. This is potentially the most contaminated part of the turkey.

3. Make sure to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure the turkey has reached 165 degrees F. Color is an inadequate indicator of safety so always use a thermometer to test the turkey before serving.

4. Cool leftover turkey quickly. Refrigerate leftover turkey within two hours of taking it out of the oven. Some spore-forming bacteria will grow and form toxins if kept at room temperature for too long. Turkey should be cooled to 41 degrees F quickly and this is best accomplished by placing sliced leftover turkey in resealable bags of one quart or smaller size. Bags should be laid flat in the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate.

5. Do not pass babies with leaky diapers around the holiday table. This can lead to all kinds of food contamination, and does not end well for anyone at the table.

A table of holiday-meal related outbreaks is available here.

To supplement the list we have also developed food safety infosheets to help ensure your holiday is a safe one. Here they are: One, Two and Three.