Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving overeating may be an annual guilty pleasure, but the feast can also bring foodborne illness health dangers to the family table.

There are some common-sense ways to stay safe, and Los Angeles County health officials are warning Southland residents against any unnecessary risks.

“As we celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, it is important to protect loved ones and guests by preparing foods properly,” said the county’s interim Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser.

“You can help prevent foodborne illness by following some simple food handling tips and cooking your turkey and other meats to appropriate temperatures.”

Raw or undercooked turkey or other meats can contain campylobacter, salmonella or E.coli bacteria that cause diarrhea and other health problems. These bacteria can multiply rapidly when poultry is taken out of refrigeration and before it is thoroughly cooked.

Though most symptoms of foodborne illness usually go away after a few hours or days without treatment, the illness can be severe and even life- threatening in older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and those with conditions that weaken their immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer drug therapy.

The Department of Public Health recommends letting a frozen turkey thaw in its wrapper in the refrigerator 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey and then cooking the bird within the next day or two. If thawing in cold water, allow about 30 minutes per pound and cook immediately after thawing.

Cooks should use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey cooks to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Other tips include:

  • do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys, as any harmful bacteria in the stuffing can multiply quickly;
  • do not thaw frozen pre-stuffed turkeys;
  • wash hands thoroughly before and after handling food; and
  • separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.

More information on safe cooking can be found at www.usda.gov or by calling the USDA hotline at (888) 674-6854.

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