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Food safety is a key ingredient for a happy Thanksgiving | Public Health - Seattle & King County

Thanksgiving memories should be of good times with friends and family, not of a foodborne illness caused by inattention to food safety. Properly handle, prepare, cook and store food to minimize the growth of E. coli, Salmonella, and other causes of foodborne illness. The majority of food borne illness stems from inadequate handwashing, cross contamination, and improper cooking, heating and cooling.

“Food safety for the holidays goes beyond the proper preparation and cooking of turkey,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County. "Whether you’re preparing turkey with all the trimmings or other traditional favorites, be sure to handle all food with care to minimize the risk of food borne illness.”

Here are important food safety tips to ensure you and your guests are protected from foodborne illness this holiday season:

Wash your hands

  • Wash your hands for about 20 seconds with warm water and soap to get rid of the germs that can get into food and make people sick.
  • Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, and after taking out the garbage, sneezing, or coughing.

Keep foods safe from cross contamination

  • Avoid cross contamination, which occurs when germs from raw foods get onto foods that will not be cooked or fully reheated to 165º F before eating.
  • Put raw poultry, meat and fish in the "meat" drawer of the refrigerator, or put them on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator so the juices don't drip on foods that won't be cooked.
  • Use a hard cutting surface with no splits or holes in it.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize the cutting surface and utensils after cutting raw poultry, meat, and fish, as well as melons. Make a sanitizer with 1 teaspoon of household bleach for each gallon of cool water.

Heat foods to their proper temperature

  • In order to kill all bacteria, cook turkey, dressing containing turkey parts, other poultry and wild game to at least 165º F, ground beef and ground pork to 155º F, and fish, shellfish, lamb, other pork, other beef, and eggs to 145º F. (Most people will prefer turkey that has been cooked to an even higher temperature).
  • Cold foods should be kept cold (lower than 41º F), and hot foods should be held hot (above 140º F).

Cool and reheat foods properly

  • Cool food properly by placing it in uncovered shallow pans in the refrigerator.
  • If you are taking prepared food to share with others, be certain that you keep it hot (above 140º F) or cold (41º F or below) during the trip and until it is served.
  • If food has been sitting at room temperature for not more than 2 hours, refrigerate it or reheat it. If food has been sitting out for longer than 2 hours, throw it out.
  • Take care with leftovers. Be sure the food has been cooled properly, then kept cold on the journey home.

Vegetables and fruit

  • Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables under cold running water.
  • Scrub the exterior of melons before cutting them, and then keep them cold at 41º F or below.
  • Keep “starchy foods” like cooked beans (legumes), rice, potatoes and pasta at 140º F or above, or cold at 41º F or below. Be sure to refrigerate within 2 hours after the meal.
  • Keep tofu and other plant protein foods hot (140º F or above) or cold (41º F or below).
  • Sprouts must be kept at 41º F or below until used.

Donated foods

Meal programs and food banks see a large amount of food donated around the holidays, and this Thanksgiving is no exception. Public Health encourages your generous food donations, and stresses that the biggest need is for high quality canned protein foods, fruits and vegetables.  If you are donating fresh produce or a perishable food that has been kept continuously refrigerated at 41º F or less, call the donor agency before delivering to make sure that they have refrigerator or freezer space, and that they can accept what you would like to donate.

For additional information on food safety, please visit:

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