How To Avoid Infecting Your Thanksgiving Guests


In September 1620, a group of separatists seeking religious freedom of worship as well as bountiful land sailed from Plymouth, England for the New World. After a 66 day journey, the Mayflower dropped anchor off the coast of Cape Cod, nearly 200 miles north of their intended destination.  They of course, in true European fashion, named their new colony Plymouth after their departing port.

The first winter was brutal and saw half of the original passengers die of disease or exposure. When spring came, the settlers were met by a local indigenous tribesman, including the famed Squanto. Squanto had been kidnapped and sold into slavery but escaped to London to return to his homeland via an exploratory expedition. Squanto’s ability to speak English and tutor the settlers in traditional hunting and harvesting techniques proved a godsend for the colonists. The following fall, the harvest proved wildly successful for Plymouth and Governor William Bradford called for a celebration of thanks, which lasted three days. The local Wampanoag tribe joined the fledgling colonies in their celebration. It is this picture of friendship and cohabitation that is tragically one of the few examples of European and Native American harmony.Image result for pilgrims and indians

Thanksgiving was celebrated in different ways and on different days throughout colonial America, but Thanksgiving as a national holiday would not be official until Abraham Lincoln in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, called for a day for all Americans to ask God to, “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife…” and to “heal the wounds of a nation.” [1]

While the holiday is no longer so closely tied to its religious roots, it is nonetheless enthusiastically celebrated throughout the country. Thanksgiving has become a day of the truly excessive, whether it is the lavish meals or the hoards of shoppers that take to the streets once the food coma has worn off.  Though it is still debated as to whether or not the dish was even present at the original Plymouth celebration, turkey has become synonymous with Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving Day alone, a total of 51,650,000 turkeys are consumed by the American public. [2]

That’s a huge number of potential Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Clostridium perfringens cases. Sorry to burst the festive balloon! We know, foodborne illness is something no one wants to really think about at this time of year, but it is a reality that must be taken into consideration.

That being said, proper preparation of your bird is paramount to avoid infecting your dinner guests with foodborne pathogens. Luckily, the USDA has outlined all the major do’s and don’ts of turkey preparation for you to follow this Thanksgiving.

First, make sure you are storing and thawing your turkey properly. While your turkey is frozen and stored in your freezer, you have nothing to worry about. However, as soon as you remove it to thaw, the risk for bacterial contamination increases with every increment of the thermometer.  In a 40° F refrigerator allow approximately 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds. In cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound changing the water every 30 minutes. [3]

Once your turkey is thawed, it’s time to clean. This step is not for the turkey however as the bacteria inside and outside of the bird cannot be washed off. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for approximately 20 seconds. Take care to wash any utensils, plates, cutting boards, and countertops as well.  [4] Use two teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water to create a cleaning solution for your cutting board.

Next, ensure that you are separating your preparation spaces. Use different knives and cutting boards for raw turkey and fresh foods, with ample space in between. Go back to the cleaning step throughout this process.[5]

With all of the preparation done, you are now ready to cook the turkey. Remember, your bird is not safe unless it reaches 165° F (this includes any stuffing).  As you cannot tell whether or not the turkey is done via coloration, you will need a food thermometer. Check the meat at the thickest part of the breast, innermost part of the wing, and innermost part of the thigh.  Once cooked, remove the turkey and let sit for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle. [6]

Now, eat to your heart’s content! Tell a story, enjoy your time with family and friends, but once you are all done, realize that bacteria do not wait around until you are ready. They act fast and so should you. Be sure to refrigerate your leftovers within 2 hours. Leftovers, properly stored, can last 2-4 days in the fridge or up to 2-6 months in the freezer.  Just remember, if you reheat, 165° F is your magic number!

Everyone at Hardy Diagnostics would like to wish you and yours a fun and safe Thanksgiving.

 

 

[1] http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

 

[2] http://www.statisticbrain.com/thanksgiving-statistics/

 

[3] https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html

 

[4] https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html

 

[5] https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html

 

[6] https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html

 

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