Home kitchens — not to mention the patience of home cooks — will
be strained to the limit preparing for the big Thanksgiving Day feast this year.
That’s the reason why cooks should practice the highest standards of kitchen
hygiene during this stressful time, according to a food safety expert.
In fact, while Thanksgiving is commonly considered one of
the most joyful times of year, it could turn out to be one of the most
stressful of times for cooks who don’t follow these practices, says Dr. JeanWeese, an Extension food safety specialist and Auburn University professor of
poultry science who heads the Alabama Extension food safety team.
Focus on the Entrée: the Thanksgiving Turkey
A prime focus of these sanitary practices should be on the
entrée — the Thanksgiving turkey — she says, adding that one of the first rules
of Thanksgiving safety should be not giving into the temptation to thaw turkey
on the kitchen counter.
“Room temperature is a virtual green light for bacteria to
breed,” she cautions. “Thaw it in the refrigerator instead. Just remember that
a large turkey can take four to seven hours per pound to defrost, meaning that
thawing should begin days before Thanksgiving.”
While it is also possible to thaw the bird with cool running
water, Weese again urges caution.
“The water has to be constantly changed, because if you
leave the bird in standing water, you’ve essentially created a bacterial bath,”
she says, adding that it typically
takes a 4- to 12-pound turkey between two and six hours to thaw in cold running
Microwave thawing is another option, but the bird should be
cooked as soon as thawing is completed.
“Leaving a bird to sit for a long time in a microwave
chamber increases the likelihood of contamination,” Weese stresses.
Avoid Stuffing Turkeys
As a second rule, Weese cautions against stuffing turkeys.
“Granted, stuffed turkeys are safe, so long as their
internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit during cooking,” she
says. “But stuffing often proves to be more trouble than it’s worth.”
“The best option should be cooking your stuffing
Wash! Wash! Wash!
As a third rule, Weese stresses regular washing of hands,
surfaces and basins to avoid cross contamination — an especially important
safeguard whenever hands are switched from raw meat to vegetables.
Sink basins should also be washed frequently, especially in cases
where vegetables and other foods are placed where raw poultry and other meats
have rested, according to Weese.
Follow a Strict Separation Separation Strategy
“All in all, a strict separation strategy should be
followed,” she says. “For example, raw meat should be prepared and returned to
the refrigerator or placed in the oven and surface areas and basins cleaned and
sanitized before any other food is brought in for preparation.
“As an added safeguard, the basin should be thoroughly
washed down with hot water and soap — ideally with a chlorine solution as an
added precaution — before vegetables or other foods are introduced.
Likewise, cutting boards for raw meat products should not be
used for salads and other uncooked foods unless they have first been thoroughly
sanitized. Moreover, dirty sponges, dishcloths and towels should be
regarded as breeding grounds for legions of harmful pathogens, Weese stresses.
“Always use paper towels or freshly laundered cloths with
soap and hot water to wipe kitchen surfaces,” she says.
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