Thanksgiving dinner is probably the biggest meal you’ll prepare all year, and that means there is a lot that can go wrong as you try to get dinner on the table. It isn’t the end of the world if your potatoes come out lumpy or your pies burn around the edges, but there are some cooking mistakes that can be harmful if you aren’t careful. Even as Thanksgiving dinner prep becomes hectic, you should make food safety a priority so no one leaves with more than a full belly at the end of the evening. Having a game plan is helpful when it comes to safer food preparation, so consider what you need to do for each course to put out a meal that is as safe and healthy – as it is delicious.
Though dinner is the star of the show, you will probably want to put out some snacks for guests to enjoy before they sit down for the big feast. Because you may have guests show up hours before you actually serve dinner, you might have appetizers sitting out for quite some time. Be sure to keep any perishables over ice or in coolers—especially foods like dips or deviled eggs. If you have warm appetizers, use a crock pot or chafing trays to keep these foods at the right temperature to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria and other food-borne pathogens.
One of the most common mistakes made with turkey occurs well before the bird is cooked. Many people purchase frozen turkeys, which need plenty of time to defrost safely. Leaving the turkey on the counter to thaw may seem safe enough, but this is an almost certain recipe for food poisoning. The USDA recommends defrosting turkeys in the fridge over the course of a few days, though you can safely thaw out your bird in a cool water bath or in the microwave if you haven’t yet begun the defrosting process and need to defrost the turkey faster. Purchasing a fresh turkey can eliminate the need for this step, though these turkeys are typically more expensive. When you do finally cook your turkey, make sure to take its temperature in several areas before finishing the cooking process, and give the finished product time to cool so that juices can resettle and preserve the moistness of your meat while reducing the chances of scalding injuries during carving.
The Side Dishes
Preparing some dishes ahead of time and storing them in the fridge to be reheated in the oven can be a smart idea, since separation of different foods will be critical in preventing harmful cross contamination. Foods that are served raw should be handled with the most care, undergoing thorough cleaning, and be kept away from raw meat and the tools used to handle it.
Once dinner has been served and everyone has gotten their fill, you may be looking forward to a wealth of leftovers. Avoid the temptation to leave leftovers out until later, and pack everything away shortly after you eat. Putting leftovers in shallow containers will help them cool faster in the fridge, thus ensuring proper preservation. When you reheat your Thanksgiving leftovers, make sure all foods reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, avoid keeping leftovers for more than 3-4 days, as they will be past their prime after this point unless they go directly into the freezer instead of the fridge.
While you may not be able to avoid family drama and other sources of stress this Thanksgiving, you can control the safety of your food with the handling and preparation tips above. If you do feel ill after your meal, don’t hesitate to consult a MeMD medical provider to find relief right away.