What you need to know to prevent foodborne illnesses during Thanksgiving feast

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and your turkey is probably already thawing. When the time comes to prepare it and throw the bird in the oven, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Wash the area where you’re handling the raw meat and make sure you’re healthy before handling it. A sick person, especially with others in one area, can spread illnesses through human contact or from preparing a meal.

“We tend to see an increase in viral illnesses like norovirus,” said Erin Hockaday, Food Safety Lead at Benton-Franklin Health District. “That’s what most people just call the winter vomiting bug or the stomach flu. We also do see a lot of bacteria illnesses.”

If you’re putting stuffing in the turkey, Hockaday said this can be complex to cook together.

“What happens when you do that is the blood from the turkey can drip through it [stuffing] and now you have to cook that stuffing to the same temperature that the turkey needs to be cooked, which is 165 degrees,” she explained.

Hockaday said to take the stuffing out and cook it in a separate container. While she says it’s not traditional, it’s safer.

Once the turkey is in the oven, check to make sure it’s done using a digital thermometer. Hockaday said using a dial one isn’t as accurate. Also, don’t determine if the turkey is done based on the color.

After you serve your turkey feast, leftovers should be put away soon after.

“We’d say probably max would be about four hours, that would be the point where I say toss it,” Hockaday said. “Two is your safest bet though, and then eat your leftovers within about seven days of Thanksgiving.”

Another reason to put the food after about 2-4 hours after eating is because of bacteria that can develop on your food.

“Bacteria illnesses can grow on the foods when you leave them at room temperature,” Hockaday explained. “Some of them can actually survive the cooking process, which is a really, really important point about the storage after the meal.”

If you put the food in the freezer, it stops the leftover clock and they’ll last longer. However, taking the food out after can diminish that time.