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How to Avoid Illness Over the Holidays: Thanksgiving Edition

How to Avoid Illness Over the Holidays- Thanksgiving Edition

Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday in the United States that was celebrated for the first time in 1621. It is not only a day where family and friends gather around, share a meal, and reflect on all of the things, experiences, and people they are thankful for, but this holiday also prompts our nation to look back and appreciate how our country began. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving festivities can also be detrimental to your health, and this wonderful time spent with loved ones can often result in you or your guests becoming ill. 

Not surprisingly, the first Thanksgiving looked quite different than how Americans celebrate today. To start, the feast did not take place in November, it occurred in Late September or early October, although the exact date is not known. [1] The feast attendees also didn't sit down at tables. Instead they sat on the ground or squatted near fires and ate the food with their hands (forks had not yet arrived in Plymouth). [2] Lastly, some of the dishes associated with Thanksgiving, like pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, were not served at the meal (there isn't even concrete evidence that the pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving). [3] Regardless, the pilgrims held the feast to celebrate and "give thanks" for the abundant harvest that ensured their survival through the winter. This is more or less the only tradition that we have kept the same from the pilgrims all those years ago, giving thanks for the good things we have received throughout the year. 

As I am sure you are aware, just because Thanksgiving is a time for thanks does not mean that the holiday always goes off without a hitch. Besides heated political discussions that could result in a food fight across the table, there are many ways you and your guests can become physically ill during Thanksgiving including contracting food poisoning. Bacteria can contaminate your food if it is not handled properly, and I am sure you will not be giving thanks for the doctor's visit on Black Friday should someone in your party contract salmonella or listeriosis. In order to avoid a Thanksgiving health fiasco, follow these tips when preparing your meal. 

The most common way to become ill on Thanksgiving is to contract food poisoning from food that was not handled, prepared, or cooked properly. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans contract a food-borne disease each year,[4] and because the average American household cooks 8-10 dishes for Thanksgiving dinner, [5] the likelihood of one of those not being cooked properly is relatively high.

Let's start with the main dish- turkey. There are many places in the journey of cooking your turkey where you could take a wrong turn and end up with a contaminated meal. Follow these tips to make sure you're cooking your turkey properly.

  • Do NOT thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is to place it in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes or thaw it out in the microwave. If you leave the frozen bird out on the counter for more than 2 hours, it will reach an unsafe temperature where bacteria grow and spread easily.[6]

  • Do not combine wet and dry ingredients ahead of time

If you want to prepare your stuffing ahead of time, you can chill the wet and dry ingredients separately, but do not combine the two until you are ready to cook the stuffing. If you must combine the two ingredient types, freeze your stuffing immediately, and cook from frozen to at least 165 degrees. [8]

  • The safest way to cook your stuffing is outside of the bird

Bacteria can grow easily in stuffing making it incredibly important to prepare and cook your stuffing properly. To become bacteria-free, stuffing needs to reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. [9] The best way to get an even, safe cook is to bake the stuffing in a casserole dish not inside of the turkey. [10]

There is also a lot of potential for cross-contamination from the multitude of dishes that are prepared for Thanksgiving. For example, if you do not wash the cutting board that is used to slice raw turkey and to chop green beans, the bacteria present on the bird is very likely to have now contaminated your vegetables. To avoid any food poisoning fiascoes that result from cross-contaminated food, follow these food prep steps:

  • Wash all surfaces and utensils

Germs can spread around your kitchen if you aren't careful. Make sure to wash with soap and water any utensils, counter tops, and cutting boards you have utilized. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during, and after preparing food, and prior to eating.

  • Separate foods

To avoid cross-contamination, use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates for raw ingredients including meat, fish, and eggs. To take extra precaution, store these items in a separate part of your refrigerator as well.



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