Food safety is always important, but it becomes especially important during the holidays. Since we are cooking for larger groups, we are more likely to be serving those who are highly susceptible to a food borne illness. The highly susceptible groups include the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and any one with underlying medical conditions. If you have family and friends on this list, food safety should be a concern for you.
First be sure to keep your kitchen clean. Items that touch raw meats, such as cutting boards, knives, utensils and dishes should be sanitized with a cleaner that kills bacteria. Bleach is a good option. It is cheap, effective and just a little goes a long way. Counter tops and sinks should also be sanitized if they come in contact with raw meats or their juices. Store raw meat items on the lowest shelves in the refrigerator. This will keep raw meat juices from dripping on ready to eat items.
Next, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. This is always an important step, but can be critical when preparing ready to eat foods such as deviled eggs. Once the eggs are boiled and cooled, they will not be cooked again to kill germs. This means that any germs that get on the eggs from your hands while you are preparing them, will still be there when your guests eat them. In the case of bacteria, those germs will multiply while waiting to be consumed. I used to wash my hands twice and use a nail brush before preparing deviled eggs that I knew my elderly grandma was going to eat.
Finally, be aware of temperatures of your foods. Hot foods need to be kept hot and cold foods need to be kept cold. Egg-based pies such as pumpkin and pecan should be kept in the refrigerator. Refrigerate left overs as soon as everyone is done eating or within two hours. Never thaw raw meat at room temperature. To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird. Be sure to cook stuffing and poultry to 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature in the thickest part of the food, in at least two spots.
Food thermometers are just a couple bucks and will help you prepare a juicy bird. Before use, ensure your thermometer is calibrated by placing it in a glass of ice water. It should say 32 while in the ice water. If not, adjust the nut under the dial to make it read 32. Now it is calibrated and ready to use. They key to juicy the turkey is to cook it to 165 as described, but not overcook it. Once you find the temp is 165 in a couple of thick areas, pull the turkey out of the oven and let it set for about 5 minutes before cutting.
Dawn Keller is a registered sanitarian with the Meigs County Health Department.