When Thanksgiving arrives next week, people should be groaning from full stomachs, not food poisoning.
More than 200,000 Americans get sick each day from what they eat, and turkey dinner with all the trimmings complicates it all. The government is offering some tips to keep holiday cooking from becoming an intestinal curse.
At the top of the list is washing your hands often, followed by keeping raw food separate from cooked food, using a food thermometer and storing leftovers in small portions in the fridge.
“It’s a little bit more dangerous, obviously, when you have large gatherings and food laid out like this,” said Richard Raymond, the nation’s top food safety official. “We tend to feast and nibble and snack all afternoon.”
During a food-safety demonstration at a food bank, the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary for food safety walked along a table laden with raw and cooked turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.
Raymond and Terrell Danley Jr., the chef at Washington’s Creme Cafe, showed how to plunge a thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey leg. The government says the temperature should read 180 degrees before the bird comes out of the oven.
That is easier said than done for people who look forward to a juicy bird. Chefs say the turkey can dry out at 180 degrees.
“I believe that’s excessive,” said David Kamen, chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. “The idea is to ensure people’s safety. Salmonella dies at 165 degrees, so that extra 15 degrees we’re throwing on top of there, one has to ask why.”
Kamen said the internal temperature of a whole turkey will continue to rise — “carryover” cooking — after it comes out of the oven.
There are ways to roast a turkey so it is safe as well as succulent, he said.
Before cooking, try soaking the turkey in brine, which adds moisture to the bird and helps it withstand high temperatures. Recipes for brine range from simple water and salt to mixtures with apple cider or molasses. Soaking recommendations vary from hours to days.
If you are cooking to 180 degrees, buy a brine-pumping syringe and inject the brine into the thicker parts of the breast before cooking. Then remember to baste it with turkey fat or melted butter. Kamen also likes to lay strips of bacon across the breast.
Danley’s solution to the problem is to break the legs apart from the bird and cook them separately.
And about that stuffing: The government isn’t crazy about people cooking it inside the bird. If you do, Raymond said, measure its temperature separately from the turkey and make sure it reaches 165 degrees.
Food poisoning is a serious illness that can kill people. It makes 76 million people sick each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 — nearly 14 per day — die.
Caused by bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter, food poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.