Top 11 tips for safe holiday cooking you need to know

Stock images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Thanksgiving meal preparation is in the offing with all its savory distractions – more hands in the kitchen, more feet running through the house, chaos; glorious chaos it is as long as we mind a few safety rules.

From the American Red Cross (Nos. 1-5) and University of Utah Extension associate professor Darlene Christensen (Nos. 6-11) :

1. Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.

2. Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department for training on the proper use of extinguishers. Never pour water on a grease fire. Using a rag to put out a fire is not a good idea. In a pinch, a large box of baking soda will do.

3. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas including outside inside bedroom areas that allow doors to be closed. Use the test button to check the alarms each month and replace all batteries at least once a year. The Red Cross offers smoke alarms and installation at no charge along with fire preparedness and safety information.

4. Keep your cooking area clear by making sure pets and children stay at least 3 feet away from the oven and stove. For added safety keep all pan handles turned inward. Small cooking fires can happen at any time as well as burn-related injuries.

5. If you’re simmering, baking, roasting or broiling food, check on it regularly.

6. The first and most important food safety step is to properly thaw the turkey. The best way to thaw it is in the refrigerator. Make sure it is still in its original wrapper, and put a tray underneath it to catch juices and prevent cross-contamination. You will need 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, so make sure you have enough time to properly thaw it. Once thawed, cook the turkey within 1 to 2 days.

7. If you need to thaw the turkey more quickly, you can use the cold water method. Place the turkey in an airtight package or leak-proof bag. Submerge the turkey in cold water for 30 minutes per pound, and make sure to change the water every half hour so it remains cold. Cook immediately.

8. If you purchased a smaller turkey, it may be possible to thaw it in the microwave. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the size of turkey that will fit in your microwave, the minutes per pound and the power level for thawing. Roast it immediately after thawing.

9. It is never safe to thaw turkey or other meat on the counter. This is putting the meat in what food safety experts call the danger zone, 40 to 140 F, which is where bacteria multiply rapidly. Under ideal conditions, bacteria can double every 10-20 minutes. That means one cell can increase to more than 16 million cells in eight hours. For this reason, perishable foods such as poultry should never be held at room temperature for more than two hours.

10. To roast a turkey, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 F. It is not safe to cook a turkey for a lengthy time, such as overnight, at a very low temperature. This encourages bacterial growth. To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh. Do not rely on the pop-up thermometer alone. Meat thermometers are available at reasonable prices in most supermarkets and variety stores. To be safe, the thigh meat should reach 165 F. If the bird is stuffed, the stuffing should reach 165 F as well.

11. After the meal, promptly refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. Some families leave turkey and other perishable items out all day for people to nibble on. This is not safe. Place perishable items in the refrigerator. If people want to snack, they can get the food out of the refrigerator.

More than an estimated 46 million turkeys are prepared and eaten in the United States every Thanksgiving, Christensen wrote. Food-borne illnesses also increase  during the holidays. If not prepared properly, turkey and all poultry can carry salmonella, a common type of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness.

As well, 45 percent of all home fires start with cooking, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Be alert, mind these tips and have a great Thanksgiving feast.


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