The National Restaurant Association (NRA) estimates that more than 30 million Americans enlist the help of restaurants for their Thanksgiving feast by dining out or using takeout, but cooking at home remains popular during this holiday.
Preparing that meal safely will ensure an enjoyable holiday with family and friends, so the experts at the NRA offer food-safety tips for holiday meals.
“While we celebrate National Food Safety Month each September, food safety is a priority year-round,” says Greg Beachey, senior academic relations and program manager with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).
“Food and cooking are a big part of holiday celebrations, so putting food safety practices in focus this time of year will help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience,” he continues. “Whether cooking at home or in a professional foodservice kitchen, basic principles like cleaning and sanitizing, and cooking to proper temperatures should be part of everyone’s food-safety knowledge base.”
The food-safety tips recommended by the NRA for preparing a Thanksgiving meal are:
1. Thaw your turkey in the fridge. While you can thaw a frozen turkey under running water or in the microwave, the best way is in the refrigerator overnight (or longer). Be sure to follow the instructions on the package.
2. Store raw turkey away from ready-to-eat food. Make sure your raw turkey is covered and stored in a leak-proof container on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. You want to keep it away from foods that are ready to eat, such as desserts and salads, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.
3. Clean and sanitize your sink and counters. After rinsing your raw turkey thoroughly, properly clean and sanitize the sink and surrounding area before starting to prepare any other food.
4. Cook your turkey to safe internal temperature. Use a properly calibrated meat thermometer to check that your turkey has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Insert the thermometer to the dimple on the stem in the thickest part of the breast and thigh for accurate readings.
5. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Prep salads, cranberries, and other cold items first and store them in the fridge until ready to serve. Then, prep your hot dishes closer to serving time so they stay hot. Keep all food items outside the “temperature danger zone” (41 to 135 degrees) as much as possible.
6. Safely reheat leftovers. Whether from a meal prepared at home or picked up from a restaurant, leftovers are part of the holiday tradition. Store each dish separately in clean, sealable, leak-proof containers, and reheat to 165 degrees when you’re ready to enjoy round two of your Thanksgiving meal.
A how-to video of Beachey, who is also a certified chef and culinary expert for the NRAEF’s ProStart program, showing proper execution of these food safety tips is available online.
Through its ServSafe Food Safety program, the NRA is the leading source of food-safety training and certification for restaurant and foodservice industry professionals for nearly 40 years. To date, more than 5 million ServSafe certifications have been issued.
Part of the NRA’s continuing efforts to educate the industry and consumers about food safety best practices is its National Food Safety Month campaign, held each September.
This year’s theme is “Be Safe, Don’t Cross-Contaminate,” focusing on how to avoid transferring potential contaminates from one food or surface to another.
National Food Safety Month 2012 is sponsored by SCA, a global hygiene company and makers of the Tork brand of away-from-home paper products.
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