By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) -For most of us, Thanksgiving dinner will be the biggest meal of the year—size wise, as well as risk wise. And I don’t mean drying out the turkey from overcooking. Thanksgiving dinner is the meal with the biggest risk of food poisoning, mainly because of some common mistakes with food preparation and storage.

Here are five tips to a healthy and happy Thanksgiving feast:

First, wash and don’t wash.

Meaning, you should be washing your hands frequently. As in over and over again. And for at least 20 seconds with soap and water per wash. Think about it, you need to start with clean hands, then clean them each time you handle the raw bird. Plus, anything that comes in contact with uncooked turkey needs to be washed down thoroughly—and repeatedly (even a counter top).

As for NOT washing, you shouldn’t wash your turkey before cooking. That just spreads germs microscopically. The only way to kill the germs on an uncooked bird is to cook it. Remember, there’s a lot of salmonella out there.

Number Two: Don’t cross-contaminate. In other words, use separate cutting boards, plates, knives, and other utensils when working with raw turkey and other foods. It’s amazing how germs can get onto a plate while handling raw turkey and then get sucked onto the raw veggies when you use the same plate again. A quick water rinse won’t cut it. Use a fresh plate.

Number Three: When it comes to cooking, a meat thermometer is more reliable than your eyeballs and a clock in scoping out how well-cooked that turkey really is. An actual meat thermometer is also more reliable than a “pop-up,” that’s jammed into some turkeys.

The breast meat should be cooked to at least 165 degrees; dark meat to 175.

Number Four: It’s time to put away those left overs before you settle down for some pie and football. Remember that two-hour rule. That means the most you really should leave cooked food out at room temperature is no more than 2 hours. Let food sit out for three, four, or five hours at room temp, and you’ve now got a recipe for stomach distress from germs multiplying.

When it comes to packing away those leftovers, think small. Using smaller, and shallower containers will help food cool down more quickly in the fridge.

Number Five: What many of us feel is the best part of Thanksgiving Day. The days after Thanksgiving, as in “leftover” days.

Leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days of the original meal… meaning that by next Monday, the opportunity for that last turkey sandwich is upon you.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida



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