First published in the Nov. 19 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
Thanksgiving is a joyful time for families to gather around the dinner table to celebrate and give thanks. It’s also a likely time of year to send children and adults to the emergency room with food poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.
“Food poisoning is extremely preventable,” said Dr. Stuart Heard, executive director of California Poison Control System (CPCS). “By following simple handling, cooking and storage suggestions, families can stay healthy and enjoy Thanksgiving, as well as the games and the nap that come after.”
Food poisoning generally causes stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea and usually appears within four to 12 hours after eating or drinking contaminated food or drink. For the elderly, children, pregnant woman and people suffering from compromised immune systems, food poisoning can be severe and sometimes fatal.
CPCS offers the top 10 safety tips for Thanksgiving and throughout the year, including:
- Wash your hands often especially when handling food.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- If you purchased a turkey fresh and not frozen, refrigerate it immediately. Do not rinse a turkey in water as that can spread salmonella. If you bought a frozen turkey, allow lots of time for it to thaw … 24 hours of thaw time per five pounds of turkey. As the bird thaws, water will accumulate, so keep the bird in a high-walled pan and do not let the water touch any other food. Store on a bottom shelf of the refrigerator.
- It is safest to not stuff a turkey, but rather put herbs inside the cavity to season it. Exotic stuffing with meat or shellfish/oysters is risky. Always cook these on the stove top or in the oven, and not in the turkey. After carving, remove all stuffing from the bird before refrigerating it.
- The biggest risk of food poisoning comes from undercooking the turkey. You can’t tell it’s done by how it looks. While recipes give you hints about testing for doneness, such as a golden-brown color or seeing juices run clear, these are not enough. The only way to make sure your bird is cooked sufficiently to be safe to eat is to measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. It must reach 165 degrees F.
- It may not be in mom’s recipe but bring gravy to a full boil before serving.
- Be sure to wipe down counters, cutting boards and utensils in between recipes especially if you have raw meat or leafy greens on the cutting board, both of which can carry salmonella. Use soap and hot water or, preferably, a sanitizer — especially if preparing to chop fruits or vegetables that will be served raw. Use different color cutting boards for meat vs. vegetables to avoid confusion.
- Keep cold food like salads, gelatin molds and salad dressing refrigerated at 35 degrees F until just before serving. Once dinner is over, refrigerate leftovers. Food is not safe to eat if it has been sitting out for two hours or more. Toss it.
- While store bought cookie dough and eggnog should be safe, be sure to purchase pasteurized eggs to use in homemade recipes.
- After taking the remaining meat off the bird, store in a shallow container in the refrigerator. Don’t put an entire carcass into the refrigerator — it won’t cool down quickly enough.
Call Poison Control at 1 (800) 222-1222 (the number is the same in all states) for help. Trained pharmacists, nurses and other providers are available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and interpreters are available. Get weekly tips about safety by texting TIPS to 20121 for English or texting PUNTOS to 20121 for Spanish. Follow CPCS on Facebook and on Twitter @poisoninfo. CPCS is part of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy and is responsible to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.