Follow safety steps to prepare holiday meal

Posted November 26, 2008 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 26, 2008 7:31 p.m. EST

In preparing and consuming the Thanksgiving feast, specific steps can help to reduce the risk of contamination and food-borne illness. The following advice is offered by Dr. David Weber, a gourmet cook and professor of infectious disease at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Before touching any food, wash your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday." If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based, waterless hand cleaner is an adequate substitute. Put a drop on your hands and rub over the entire surface for 10 to 15 seconds.

Insist that any visiting chefs wash their hands upon entering or leaving the kitchen. Make ample opportunity for your guests to wash their hands before the holiday feast.

Use cutting boards of glass, marble or some other impervious surface to work with meat. Clean the cutting board after using it with anything that's raw to avoid cross-contamination.

Never re-use knives used to cut raw meat.

Thaw your turkey safely. The safest method is to thaw it in the refrigerator over a couple of days.

If time is short, seal the turkey in a plastic bag and then put that bag into cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Keep it cold. This method should take about 30 minutes per pound of turkey.

A third option is to thaw the turkey in the microwave. Cook it immediately after thawing.

Make sure your turkey is cooked thoroughly. "This is the most critical point here," Weber said. "Test it in the center of the stuffing, in the breast and in the thigh. You must reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be sure that all the bacteria have been killed."

The caution does not stop after the meal. Put away cooked food within two hours. After four days, either freeze your leftovers or throw them out.