Don't let foodborne illness find a home in your festivities. Following basic recommendations will help ensure safe food for you and your guests not only during the holidays, but year-round.
First, be sure to keep everything clean! That includes your hands and kitchen surfaces while you are preparing holiday meals. Wash hands and kitchen surfaces often with hot soapy water. Also, wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils after preparing each food item and before you start another food item. Sanitize using a solution of one tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Use paper toweling for cleaning up kitchen surfaces. Keep sponges out of the kitchen, they are not food safe!
Safely thawing the turkey can help prevent foodborne illness. Do not thaw foods on the kitchen counter! The three accepted ways to thaw a turkey are in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. For every 5 pounds of turkey, allow 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its airtight packaging. Allow 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Follow the oven manufacturer's instructions when thawing a turkey in the microwave. Plan to cook the bird immediately after thawing.
Always separate raw and ready to eat foods. Cross-contamination is the scientific word for how bacteria can be spread from one food product to another. This process begins at the grocery store, continues in carry home bags, to your refrigerator, and to food preparation. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another cutting board for ready to eat foods. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat and poultry unless the plate has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
Cook food to the proper temperature. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked to a proper internal temperature. Keep a cooking temperature chart handy. Whole chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees in the inner thigh of the bird. If cooking a turkey breast only, cook to at least 170 degrees in the thickest part.
Thoroughly reheat leftovers to 165 degrees and be sure to bring gravies, sauces and soups to a rolling boil.
Finally, chill everything promptly! Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours by placing them in shallow containers to cool rapidly. Marinate foods in the refrigerator in covered containers. Keep the refrigerator temperature at 40-degrees or slightly below and the freezer at 0 degrees to -10 degrees. Monitor the temperatures with an appliance thermometer.