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Health official offers Thanksgiving food preparation and safety tips

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — With Thanksgiving just a few days away, you may be busy planning your menu and shopping for ingredients. But nothing could sour your meal quite like a foodborne illness.

Cathy Deimeke, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic, said there are a number of steps you can take to have a safe and healthy meal this Thanksgiving.

“I think the biggest concern is thawing your turkey properly,” she said.

Deimeke said it takes 24 hours for every five pounds of frozen turkey to thaw in the refrigerator, and 30 minutes for every pound of frozen turkey to thaw in cold water.

She said if you choose to thaw your turkey in cold water, make sure to put it in a bag or container to avoid having the turkey absorb moisture. Also, she said change out the water every 30 minutes.

Deimeke said after you’re done cooking the turkey in the oven, use a food thermometer to ensure it’s safe to eat. She said the turkey thigh should be 180 degrees, the turkey breast 170 degrees and the stuffing 165 degrees.

If you choose to deep-fry the turkey, there are a number of safety tips to consider.

“First and foremost, make sure that the fryer itself is on a very stable place,” Deimeke said. “Never have it on a deck or anything wooden either because it gets very hot.”

“Also, the container gets really hot, so don’t let pets or kids nearby,” she added.

As you prepare other foods for your Thanksgiving meal, be aware of cross-contamination, Deimeke said.

“Have separate cutting boards and areas for your meats and poultry, for example, and a separate area for cutting veggies,” she said. “Also, make sure that knives are kept separate as well.”

And as you’re cooking, Deimeke said be sure to wash your hands with soap and hot water frequently. She also recommended using paper towels instead of sponges and dish rags to clean surfaces.

After the Thanksgiving meal, be sure to refrigerate leftovers a soon as possible. Deimeke said anything that is perishable should not be left out for more than two hours.

“Be on the safe side,” she said. “The foods that you would normally refrigerate or you need to reheat, put it back in the fridge well within the two-hour range.”

She noted the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website has more food safety tips. She added the Butterball hotline, which has experts answering turkey-cooking questions, is also a good source.

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