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Thanksgiving Turkey Tips to Keep Food Poisoning at Bay

Nov 20, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Thanksgiving is one of the most cherished of holidays.  It is certainly not a day that should be marred by food poisoning.  But unfortunately, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey can present many opportunities for food borne bacteria to thrive. In the past year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated outbreaks of food borne illness caused by bacteria present in a variety of foods.  Food safety is especially important as you prepare a Thanksgiving meal.  CDC is a food safety partner with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)—Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry. They have assembled the following tips to limit the chance that a food poisoning outbreak will start at a Thanksgiving table:

•    Turkey choice is important to the USDA.  Whether sold at a grocery or ordered by Internet or catalogue, check for the USDA or State mark of inspection; this ensures the turkey has been inspected for safety and wholesomeness.

•    Allow approximately one pound of turkey meat per person.

•    No matter what size turkey you purchase, heed the USDA's nationwide campaign recommendations to be food safe when handling and cooking turkey:

•    Safe Thawing:  Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature.  The danger zone is between 40 and 140°F—the temperature range where food borne bacteria multiply rapidly.  While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to regrow in this range.  The three safe ways to thaw food are:  In the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for every four to five pounds; in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound; and in a microwave oven, check your owner’s manual to calculate minutes per pound and power settings.  Cook immediately after thawing.

•    Safe Preparation (Clean, Separate):  Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces during preparation and can be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.  Wash cutting boards, utensils, work surfaces, and anything that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and hot water before they touch other foods.  Use different cutting boards for raw poultry and other foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables.  Keep raw turkey separate from other side dishes.

•    Safe Stuffing:  For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish.  If you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking and use a food thermometer, ensuring the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Bacteria can survive in stuffing below this temperature, resulting in food borne illness.

•    Safe Cooking:  Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°.  Place the fully thawed turkey, breast-side up, on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.  Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer, ensuring the turkey reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Allow the bird to stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving.

•    Chill:  Keep the fridge at 40 °F or below to keep bacteria from growing.  Perishable foods should not be left sitting out at room temperature longer than two hours and should be discarded after two hours.

By following the recommendations of the CDC and USDA when preparing Thanksgiving dinner, it’s far more likely that everyone will have a Happy Thanksgiving.


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