Follow these tips to keep your Thanksgiving dinner safe

VIDEO: Follow these tips to keep your Thanksgiving dinner safe

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The USDA and other groups are warning people about the importance of safe kitchen practices to avoid foodborne illnesses.

An estimated one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. Those cases result in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

USDA experts say common kitchen myths can commonly-held “time-saving” practices can cause serious illness. Those “shortcuts” include stuffing the turkey the night before; thawing the bird on the counter; and serving a turkey once it is golden brown and the juices run clear.

These actions put family members at risk for food poisoning.

The Palmetto Poison Center released these tips when it comes to preparing and cooking a turkey:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within 2 hours of shopping or preparing. 
  • When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours for each four to five pounds of meat. Thawing meat on the counter at room temperature is not safe. 
  • Submerging the turkey in cold tap water is also a method for thawing. Make sure the bird is in a leak-proof container and change the water every 30 minutes until thawed.
  • Never place fresh fruit/vegetables or cooked food in the same container or on the same surface that raw food has touched. 
  • Always wash your hands after handling raw meat. Scrub hands, wrists, fingernails and in between fingers with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • For optimal safety, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. If you place it inside the turkey, do so just after thoroughly cooking the turkey.
  • Set oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure the turkey is completely thawed.
  • Cook the bird breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.
  • Check the temperature at the meaty portion of the breast, thigh and wing. The safe minimum internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The USDA issues the following recommendations for cooking your Thanksgiving bird:
    • 8-12 pound birds should cook from 2 ¾ to 3 hours
    • 12-14 pound birds should cook from 3 to 3 ¾ hours
    • 14-18 pound birds should cook from 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately.

When cooking the turkey, Dr. Jill Michels, a clinical pharmacist and the director of the Palmetto Poison Center at USC’s South Carolina College of Pharmacy, says you must make sure the stuffing is also thoroughly cooked.

“One of the major issues over the holidays concerns improperly cooking the stuffing that is placed inside the bird,” Michels said. “Even if the bird is cooked correctly, stuffing may not have reached the temperature necessary to kill potentially harmful bacteria.”

Butterball’s annual Turkey Talk hotline is up and running to help with questions. Call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372) to get answers to common turkey cooking questions. The hotline is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesday and from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Food poisoning can present itself in different ways, but common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and fever that lasts longer than 48 hours.

The Palmetto Poison Center is staffed by trained nurses and pharmacists who can provide expert information when food poisoning occurs. The Center provides services to over 4 million residents in all 46 counties of South Carolina.

Services are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To contact the Palmetto Poison Center, call 1-800-222-1222.

The Palmetto South Carolina Region of the American Red Cross also released its recommendations for safe cooking:

  • Install a smoke alarm near your  kitchen, on each level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping  areas. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries  at least once a year if your smoke alarm requires it.
  • Consider purchasing a fire  extinguisher to keep in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department  to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.
  • While cooking,  don’t wear loose clothing or sleeves that dangle.
  • If you are  frying, grilling or broiling food, never leave it unattended—stay in the  kitchen. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn  off the stove. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • If you’re  simmering, baking, roasting or broiling food, check it regularly.
  • Use a timer to  remind yourself that the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep kids and  pets away from the cooking area. Make them stay at least three feet away  from the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch  fire—pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food  packaging, towels or curtains—away from your stove, oven or any other  appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a  regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Always check the kitchen before  going to bed or leaving home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small  appliances are turned off.

The National Fire Protection Association says the chances of a fire caused by cooking increase nearly 250 percent.

Thanksgiving is the leading day for reported home fires, the group says, and cooking is the No. 1 cause of these fires, particularly when the food is unattended.

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