Q&A: Prepare holiday meals with food safety in mind

Published: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 - 6:12 am

Thanksgiving is all about the food, but if you're not careful about how you prepare your holiday meal, your time at home with family and friends could be spent instead in an emergency room with a bout of food poisoning.

In an interview with The Bee, Zarha Ruiz, who manages a food safety program for retail establishments for Sacramento County's Environmental Management Department, provided food safety information for the holidays.

>When preparing a turkey, how can you tell when it is safe to eat?

Make sure you take samplings of temperatures all around the bird to make sure it is cooked thoroughly. The most important part of the bird to sample is the thickest part, which is generally the breast. Make sure the turkey has reached 165 degrees. If you decide to put stuffing in your turkey, you have to make sure it reaches the same temperature.

>Besides the turkey, are there any other food items that people should be cautious about preparing?

It is not so much what foods are being prepared; it is important to try to avoid cross-contamination when preparing food. Cross-contamination can happen when sharing cutting boards among several cooks.

The other big thing is hand washing, which is extremely important to do when preparing different types of food and when you are preparing food for lots of people. After handling pets, going to the bathroom, and in between kitchen tasks are just some examples of when you should wash your hands before handling food.

Also, make sure wherever there is handling of raw animal products, that there is washing and sanitation of cooking utensils.

>How long can food stay out at room temperature before it is no longer safe to eat?

It is recommended that you do not let any food stay out more than two hours.

>How long after Thanksgiving is it OK to continue to eat leftovers?

The most important thing you can do is cook your turkey and other food thoroughly from the start. Retail establishments do not have laws for how long food can be eaten after preparing it, but there is guidance to not eat leftovers after three to four days.

This time frame is also assuming the leftovers are kept at proper temperatures. Your home refrigerator should be set to 41 degrees or below in order to maintain safe food storage levels.

>If someone does get food poisoning, is there anything that can be done at home to relieve the symptoms?

No. I have a strong recommendation that when food illness is suspected you should visit your doctor. I do not recommend waiting because you never know what type of food poisoning you could have. For example, with E. coli, things can go south very quickly.

To see a list of food safety guidelines published by Ruiz's office, go to www.sacbee.com/links.

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