Don’t leave your Thanksgiving leftovers out for too long, food safety expert warns

Health

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As we return to a more “normal” Thanksgiving this year, you may be tasked with preparing the big meal.

If so, it’s important to think about food safety to make sure no one falls ill.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows about 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illnesses.

Bridget Sweet, the executive director of food safety at Johnson and Wales University, said one of the biggest mistakes you can make is leaving food out in the open for several hours.

“Anything that’s been fully heat-treated should also be cooled and put away within that four-hour window,” Sweet explained. “Typically, if you can start breaking it down and putting it away within a two-hour window, you’re being super mindful and you can really use that food for leftovers in the future.”

If your turkey is frozen, you’ll want to ensure it’s properly thawed, but don’t simply leave it on the counter.

“If you have a 20- to 24-pound turkey, five days is usually sufficient,” Sweet said. “If it’s 16-20 pounds, three days should really do it, but put it inside your refrigerator, not on your counter because that will allow that salmonella to grow and proliferate to an even higher bacteria load.”

If you don’t enough time to thaw your turkey out in the fridge before Thanksgiving, Sweet said there’s another way to do it safely.

“Keep it in the packaging and run it under — about 60 to 70 degrees in the sink should be sufficient — under running water so it’s constantly flushing, so it’s not just allowing that bacteria to kind of pool and grow within your sink,” she said.

When your turkey’s in the fridge, it should be on the lowest shelf and away from any vegetables, according to Sweet.

Once you start cooking, Sweet said to wash your hands frequently and make sure your work area is clean. Also, be mindful of what you’re preparing and where.

“You don’t want to have that raw, ready-to-eat salad right next to that raw, not ready-to-eat turkey,” Sweet said.

Lastly, don’t just go by the color to determine when the turkey is fully cooked.

“People often think they know when something is done by color, but investing in a meat thermometer and really investigating and checking that internal temperature, making sure it’s 165 or higher, is really important,” Sweet said.

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