A perfectly stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes covered in gravy, grandma’s green bean casserole. These are the dishes that should cover your Thanksgiving table and lovingly fill the bellies of your family members, but too many people have horror stories of Thanksgivings gone wrong because of food poisoning. Out of every six Americans, one gets sick from consuming contaminated foods or beverages every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This year, leave the horror behind with Halloween and know how to cook a perfectly safe Thanksgiving dinner.
Tackling The Turkey
The crowning jewel of a Thanksgiving dinner tends to be the turkey. If handled or cooked improperly, this centerpiece can quickly become a poultry disaster and send your celebrations straight to urgent care. While about 60% of urgent care centers have a wait time of fewer than 15 minutes to see a physician or mid-level provider, you won’t want to spend a second of this family-oriented day in the waiting room with other victims of Thanksgiving mishaps.
The first step to a safely-cooked turkey is in the thawing. To defrost it at a safe temperature, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that you change every 30 minutes, or in the microwave. As raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria, do everything you can to isolate the turkey. If you stuff your turkey, do so just before cooking it, and make sure both the turkey and the stuffing reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vetting The Veggies
Thanksgiving is nothing without a glorious array of sides, but even those seemingly harmless dishes can contain dangerous bacteria. Leafy greens and other vegetables are common sources of food poisoning. Dirty processing equipment and unclean water at the growing site can often lead to mass recalls of vegetables, so be sure that the veggies you’re using for the big day are not on a recall list. Thoroughly wash all vegetables and fruit before preparing them, and try to include the majority of them in cooked dishes. This will ensure that any nasty contaminants are cooked off.
Sanitizing The Seafood
Seafood may not be the first protein you think of when you imagine a Thanksgiving dinner, but many families use it as a turkey substitute for pescatarian family members or for those who simply do not prefer a turkey dinner. With 71% of the Earth covered in water, there is an entire world of food that could be deliciously incorporated into a Thanksgiving dinner, but improper storage and handling of the ocean’s goods can immediately make seafood dangerous.
When fish is not stored at a cool enough temperature, it has a higher risk of being contaminated with histamine, a toxin produced by bacteria in fish that is not killed by regular cooking temperatures. Shellfish can contain toxin-ridden algae, which can pose a huge threat to humans who consume unclean shellfish. Always buy your seafood from a store, keep it refrigerated, and make sure all food is completely cooked food before you put it on the table.
Typically, a person will start to feel sick within one or two hours of eating contaminated food and may feel nauseous, have a fever or a headache, or feel stomach pain. To make sure you have a happy Thanksgiving, take every precaution in cooking and know the symptoms of food poisoning so you can catch it early if it does happen.