The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 23, 2012

Avoid getting sick after holiday meals

Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Healthy Aging

By Judy Rupp

When you make preparations for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals, you probably call on the traditional wisdom passed along to you by your mother. Among all of the family food secrets and recipes, you’re unlikely to find helpful advice regarding food safety.

No one ever got sick in our family, you say. But people can and do get foodborne illness from holiday meals. Diarrhea, vomiting and flu-like symptoms — which can appear as early as a few hours to as long as several days after a meal — may be mistakenly labeled “intestinal flu” or be mild enough to go unnoticed.

On the other hand, foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening. Those most at risk include older adults, infants and small children, pregnant women and persons who have weakened immunity.

There is no reason to take chances, particularly when safe food handling practices are so easy to follow. According to the Food and Drug Association, the basics can be summed up as: 1. Clean, 2. Separate, 3. Cook and 4. Chill.


This refers to your hands and every surface in your kitchen that comes in contact with food.  Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds both before and after handling any food. Dishes, knives and other utensils, cutting boards and countertops should be clean before each use.

Fruits and vegetables should be rinsed well under cool, running water, but don’t rinse meat or poultry before cooking since this may spread bacteria around the sink and counter tops.


Think of raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and their juices as being contaminated with harmful bacteria. With cooking, these will be removed, but until then, it’s crucial to keep them separate from foods that won’t be cooked. This principle should be followed from the time you place the items in your grocery cart until you put them in your oven or frying pan.


Appearance and food color are not reliable indicators of proper cooking. For a turkey, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. The meat and the stuffing are not safe until the temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Soups, sauces and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil — even for re-heating.


Even after food has been cooked, bacteria thrive at room temperature. No matter how long your family lingers at the table after the meal, make sure that leftovers have been packed away in the refrigerator within two hours.

If you’re traveling from afar, bringing dishes to someone else’s house, it’s important to be aware of the need for keeping foods properly chilled any time two hours or more may elapse after cooking. Proper chilling is under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the trunk of your car is unlikely to be that cool.

Preparing for the feast

Make sure you have the refrigerator and stove space to follow these four basic principles.

• Do you buy a fresh or frozen turkey? Each has its advantages, but if you’re going for fresh turkey, buy it no more than two days before you’ll be cooking it. You can buy a frozen bird any time the price is right, but make sure you have room in your freezer and, later, in your refrigerator for thawing.  

• The turkey should be thawed in its original wrapper in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each four to five pounds. That means for a turkey large enough to feed 12 to 16 people (a pound per person), you’ll need to start your thawing three or four days ahead.

• If you don’t have that much time, an alternative method is to thaw the bird in cold water in the sink, changing the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes of defrosting time for every pound of turkey. Never defrost on the countertop at room temperature!

• Everyone counts on having leftovers the day after a holiday feast. But don’t push the storage for longer than three or four days without freezing. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees or until the food is hot and steaming. Sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a boil. When using the microwave, make sure there are no cold spots where bacteria can thrive.

Food safety is mostly a matter of common sense. Your mother and grandmother didn’t have time to give you all these details and still show you how to make delicious gravy ... without lumps.

Rupp is a certified information and referral specialist on aging for NODA Area Agency on Aging. Contact her at 237-2236.