Cooking tips for turkey day

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Thanksgiving is usually associated with football, family and food but, and while most may not associate this holiday with food safety, it should be a very important ingredient of this festive occasion.

Personal hygiene is a must when preparing food for a Thanksgiving feast. Those preparing food should wash their hands with soap and water and avoid wearing jewelry on their hands, giving bacteria fewer places to hide and multiply.

Cold foods or dairy products should be kept below 41F (5C) and hot foods should be kept at 135F (57C) or above. The temperature range from 41F to 140F is called the "danger zone," and is the range in which bacteria is most likely to grow.

Large meat items such as turkey, roasts or hams should be thawed in a refrigerator not more than three days prior to use. Quick thawing in a sink or on a counter can cause outer areas of large meats to be in the danger zone while the inside is still frozen. For procrastinators, faster thawing can be accomplished by placing the meat item under cold running water. Read the label for amount of time the food item needs to thaw.

When cooking turkey, use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches at least 165F before serving. Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook because stuffing acts as insulation. The 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron recommends stuffing be cooked separately from the bird to ensure proper temperatures are reached and bacteria are killed. In at least one recorded case, turkey thighs had reached an internal temperature of 200F while the stuffing inside was still at 90F. If a thermometer inserted into the thigh reads 185F, the breast should be at 165F.

Cross contamination, or allowing other food items to come into contact with raw turkey meat or its juices, is also a big concern. This can be avoided by sanitizing food preparation surfaces and utensils when different types of foods such as raw meats and vegetables are prepared. Also, ensure proper hand washing when moving between working with raw and ready to eat foods.

Leftovers should be refrigerated in shallow dishes immediately after any meal. This ensures quick cooling and doesn't give bacteria the opportunity to multiply. These should also be used within seven days or frozen. Label the items with the day it was prepared.

For additional information call the 21st AMDS Public Health Office at 556-1225 or visit the Center for Disease Control Food Safety and Inspection Service' s website at www.cdc.gov