Don’t let Thanksgiving dinner make your family sick, officials urge

State officials today reminded consumers to prepare and cook food safely during the upcoming holiday season. Many food borne illnesses are preventable if consumers take simple precautions to protect themselves and their families.

"The holiday season is a wonderful time for families to come together and celebrate. We want to make sure that the holiday bounty is prepared in a safe and healthy way," Agriculture Commissioner Darrel J. Aubertine said. "New Yorkers should follow proper procedures to prevent accidental food borne illness. The steps outlined below are simple, yet essential in ensuring your holidays are filled with both health and happiness."

Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D. said, "While people can experience food borne illnesses any time of the year, we urge New Yorkers to take special precautions as they prepare festive meals to ensure that their holidays are not just enjoyable but healthy and safe."

Safe and proper food handling practices in the home are critical in preventing food borne illnesses. One top concern this time of year is the increased risk of illness resulting from stuffing turkeys prior to cooking. Food safety experts recommend cooking stuffing separately from the turkey to avoid the potential for bacteria growth.

Here are some other tips to follow for a safe holiday season:

¿ Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator at 45 degrees, not on the counter. Thawing at room temperature promotes bacteria growth. Be sure to allow 24 hours of defrosting for each five pounds of turkey.

¿ The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey. Stuffing placed in an uncooked turkey is susceptible to bacteria growth. However, if you choose to cook the stuffing in the turkey, stuff it loosely to ensure safe, even cooking, and be sure the stuffing in the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

¿ Be sure to thoroughly cook the turkey at 325 degrees. Cooking a turkey at less than 325 degrees is unsafe because it allows the turkey and stuffing to remain in the danger zone for bacterial growth for too long. A whole turkey should reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature, even if the turkey has a "pop up" temperature indicator.

Here are estimated cooking times for unstuffed and stuffed turkeys:

Unstuffed Hours cooking Stuffed Hours cooking

8 ­ 12 lbs. 2.75 ­ 3 8 ­ 12 lbs. 3 ­ 3.5

12 ­ 14 lbs. 3 ­ 3.75 12 ­ 14 lbs. 3.5 ­ 4

14 ­ 18 lbs. 3.75 ­ 4.25 14 ­ 18 lbs. 4 ­ 4.5

18 ­ 20 lbs. 4.25 ­ 4.5 18 ­ 20 lbs. 4.25 ­ 4.75

20 ­ 24 lbs. 4.5 ­ 5 20 ­ 24 lbs. 4.75 ­ 5.25

¿ Do not interrupt the cooking process. Interrupting the cooking process promotes bacteria growth.

¿ When preparing your meal, thoroughly wash hands, cutting boards and utensils before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood apart from foods that won’t be cooked.

¿ Be careful with holiday buffets. Servings should be kept small and replenished often directly from the stove or refrigerator. The longer food is kept out, especially beyond two hours, the higher the risk of food poisoning. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. (Editor’s note: the standard is not to have foods at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for more than two hours -- in other words, keep it hot or cold.)

¿ Carefully store leftovers. Slice the turkey before refrigerating; whole turkeys do not store safely in the refrigerator. Store the turkey and stuffing in separate, shallow, covered containers and refrigerate at 45 degrees or below within two hours of cooking. Perishable foods left at room temperature for longer than two hours are susceptible to bacterial growth. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within four days, gravy within two days.

Consumers can learn more about food safety tips at the Department of Agriculture and Markets’ website at http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/FS/FSHome.html or the Department of Health’s website at http://www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/indoors/food_safety.