Food Safety Hotline Provides Answers to Consumers’ Food Questions

There seems to be a lot of information on food safety issues online. But I’m wondering, is there somewhere or someone I can call for help when I have questions about food safety?

CFAES Food Safety hotline offers expert opinions on food questions for consumers.

You can call 1-800-752-2751 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and a food safety expert from the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University will likely have the answers to your food safety questions.

Created in 1985 by the CFAES Food Industries Center as a service to support the needs of Ohio-based food processors, the Food Safety Hotline is now a consumer resource for any popular food issue, according to Heather Dean, who serves as the hotline’s coordinator.

The hotline is now accessible by consumers nationwide, thanks to a partnership started with The Kroger Co. in 2009. Consumers can also email their food safety questions to foodsafety@osu.edu. Faculty and staff members from the Food Industries Center, CFAES’s Department of Food Science and Technology, and related programs will respond to those emails.

Trained CFAES staff and students answer the hotline, which averages about 100 calls per year, Dean. said.

The most common questions the hotline receives deal with food storage and safe temperatures for food. For example, a recent question was, “If a package of meat was accidentally left in the car after a grocery trip, is it safe to eat?”

“We get calls more frequently during the summer when people are canning food, and during the holidays when people have questions about Thanksgiving turkey,” Dean said. “This service is a reliable resource for people who don’t have access to the Internet or for someone who wants to validate information they’ve seen online.

“Sometimes it’s just as simple as someone going through their food pantries and asking questions about expiration dates.”

Calls to the hotline typically average about 5 minutes, and if the food safety experts don’t have the answer, they will take the caller’s contact information, research the correct answer and call back with the requested information.

The service is free and open to all. And calls made during off times are answered by voicemail and will also receive a call back.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Heather Dean, Food Safety Hotline coordinator for CFAES.

Are You Eating Out for Valentine’s Day?

With all the recent media reports of foodborne illness caused by eating at some restaurants, how can I know if the place I take my sweetie this year for Valentine’s Day won’t make us sick later?

Valentine’s Day is the 2nd most popular holiday for dining out after Mother’s Day, according to the National Restaurant Association. Photo: Thinkstock.

Good question!

With nearly 30 percent of consumers planning to dine out on Valentine’s Day this year, according to the National Restaurant Association, it’s good to know that health officials inspect these places to make sure they prepare food safely.

Local public health departments routinely inspect food establishments to ensure that they follow safe food handling procedures. Generally, inspectors check the restaurants to make sure that certain safeguards are being followed to prevent food contamination.

In Columbus, Ohio, for example, consumers can easily check to see if a licensed restaurant or other food establishment has passed inspection by viewing dated, color-coded signs posted in the restaurant. The colors indicate the results of the establishments’ most recent health inspections.

For example, a green sign indicates that standard inspections have been conducted and the business has met the standards of Columbus Public Health, according to the city of Columbus.

A yellow sign indicates that the establishment is in the enforcement process due to uncorrected critical violations found during follow-up inspections.

A white sign indicates that the business has been placed on an increased frequency of inspections. A red sign indicates that the eatery has been ordered closed by the Board of Health or the health commissioner.

You can check restaurants’ health inspection records in your area by contacting your local public health department or board of health. Some restaurant review websites even publish this information.

In order to make good nutrition choices once you’re at the restaurant, be aware of the nutritional content of the foods you order, including the calorie content, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can look up the menu’s nutritional information on the restaurant’s website, or in many cases, that information is posted on the menu or somewhere in the restaurant.

The CDC offers these other tips for a safe and heart-healthy Valentine’s Day celebration:

  • Ask before ordering. Raw or undercooked eggs can be a hidden hazard in foods, such as Caesar salad, custards and some sauces, unless they are commercially pasteurized.
  • Order it cooked to the recommended endpoint temperature. Certain foods, including eggs, meat, poultry and fish, need to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill pathogens that may be present.
  • Know your sodium intake. More than 40 percent of the sodium we eat comes from these common foods: bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and snacks. Most restaurants offer lower sodium options for entrees and dressings, so check the menu or ask the staff for suggestions.
  • Consider ordering one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two.

And lastly, if you end up with leftovers, remember to refrigerate them within two hours of being served, or one hour if the temperature outside is warmer than 90 F. If this isn’t possible, consider leaving the leftovers behind.

One more thing to take note of: in addition to having Valentine’s Day, February is also American Heart Month. Show your sweetie you care by getting active and eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. And if you smoke, try quitting.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES, and Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology for CFAES.

Raw or Lightly Cooked Sprouts not Safe to Eat for Certain Populations

I went to a hibachi grill last weekend and I really wanted to eat the sprouts, but my husband was adamant that I not eat them because I’m pregnant. Who was right – him or me?

Fresh bean sprouts. Photo: Thinkstock.

Technically, you both were right – it really depends on whether the sprouts were fully cooked or not.

Raw or undercooked sprouts pose a risk of foodborne infection because, unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. Bacteria that can make you sick, including SalmonellaListeria and E. coli thrive in such warm and humid conditions.

As such, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises children, elderly people, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system to not eat any raw or lightly cooked sprouts at all. That includes alfalfa sprouts, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts. During pregnancy, women are at increased risk for contracting foodborne diseases, said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

“Listeriosis in pregnant women can have severe consequences for both mother and fetus,” she said.

Raw sprouts served at Jimmy John’s restaurants in Illinois and Wisconsin were the likely source of the recent multistate Salmonella Montevideo outbreak that began Jan. 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak so far has included eight people in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota that ate raw clover sprouts.

According to FDA, raw and or lightly cooked sprouts have been associated with some 30 foodborne illness outbreaks since 1996, with the majority of the outbreaks caused by E. coli and Salmonella. Symptoms of these illnesses include abdominal cramps, fever and diarrhea, which typically occur 12 to 72 hours after infection.

Sprouts begin as seeds that germinate into young plants that are then either eaten raw or lightly cooked. The seed is typically the source of the bacteria. And while there are several techniques used to kill harmful bacteria that may be present on seeds, the FDA says, there is no treatment that can fully guarantee that all harmful bacteria will be destroyed.

The most commonly eaten sprouts include alfalfa and mung bean sprouts, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

So, if you want to eat sprouts, its best if you cook them thoroughly to reduce the risk of getting a foodborne illness, FDA says.

Other tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for consumers when buying, storing and eating fresh sprouts:

  • Buy only fresh sprouts that have been kept properly refrigerated.
  • Do not buy sprouts that have a musty smell or slimy appearance.
  • Refrigerate sprouts at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
  • Rinse sprouts thoroughly under running water before use.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

“Raw” Water Trend Can Make You Sick

I’ve heard about a new trend that involves drinking “raw water.” What is it, and is it good for me?

While there are some foods and drinks that are safe to consume raw, water is not one of them. Photo: Thinkstock.

In a word, no.

“Raw” or “live” water is not treated to remove or reduce minerals, ions, particulate, or, importantly, potential pathogenic bacteria and parasites. Raw water is found in rivers and natural springs, and is being sold at premium prices by some companies, according to published reports.

According to those recent published reports, selling raw water is part of a natural foods or health trend. The idea is that because this water still retains its natural mineral concentration, comes directly from earth springs, is unfiltered, and is untreated with chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride, it is a healthy alternative.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while water flowing in streams and rivers of the backcountry might look pure, it can still be contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemical contaminants. The agency warns that drinking contaminated water can increase the risk of developing certain infectious diseases caused by pathogens such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus, in addition to others.

In fact, there were some 42 waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water in the United States from 2013 to 2014, resulting in at least 1,006 cases of illnesses, 124 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths, according to the CDC. Ohio was among those impacted states.

The biggest culprit was Legionella, which was associated with 57 percent of these outbreaks and all of the deaths, the CDC said.

One way to deter such waterborne disease outbreaks is through effective water treatment and regulations, which can protect public drinking water supplies in the United States, the CDC said.

And those consumers who want to take additional precautions when camping, hiking, or traveling to regions without strict water treatment programs can find additional information on filtration, boiling, and other practices from the CDC website.

It’s important to note that just because something is labeled natural, unprocessed, or raw, doesn’t automatically mean that it is healthy or better for you. And while there are some foods and drinks that are safe to consume raw, water is not one of them.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Leafy Greens Suspected in Latest E. coli Food Poisoning Cases

I’m confused about the recent reports regarding leafy greens such as romaine lettuce. How is it that leafy greens can cause a foodborne illness?

Field of lettuce, close-up. Photo: Thinkstock.

Well, it is not the leafy greens themselves making people sick, but rather that they are the suspected source of pathogenic E. coli that has sickened some 58 people in Canada.

Several people in the United States have also become ill from a strain of E. coli that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is closely related genetically to the strain that caused the outbreak in Canada. In fact, 24 such illnesses have been reported in 15 states, including Ohio, between Nov. 15 and Dec. 12, 2017, the CDC said this week.

The likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens, the CDC said, noting that the agency has not identified a single type or brand associated with the outbreak. Their investigation is ongoing and includes interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the weeks before their illnesses started, the agency said in a written statement.

“Preliminary results show that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, meaning the ill people are more likely to share a common source of infection,” the CDC statement said.

While Canadian authorities have warned about romaine lettuce consumption, the CDC states that “because we have not identified a source of the infections, CDC is unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food.”

However, the CDC statement notes that “leafy greens typically have a short shelf life, and since the last illness started a month ago, it is likely that contaminated leafy greens linked to this outbreak are no longer available for sale.”

The illness in question is a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 infections. This strain of E. coli can produce a toxin that in some cases can cause serious illness, kidney failure or death. Thus far, at least five people in the United States have been hospitalized and one has died, according to the CDC. There has also been at least one death in Canada also, according to Consumer Reports.

So how can leafy greens become contaminated with E. coli?

If animal feces are in the field or soil in which the lettuce is grown, or if the lettuce comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, E. coli can be transferred from the feces onto the lettuce. It can also be spread if a person who carries the bacteria doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, and then processes or prepares food, said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

It’s important to note that washing contaminated greens doesn’t remove all bacteria, food safety experts say. While cooking can eliminate E. coli, most people don’t cook their leafy green salads. For that reason, avoidance is sometimes recommended when the source of an outbreak is identified.

Symptoms of E. coli infection can begin as soon as 24 to 48 hours or as long as 10 days after eating contaminated food. Those symptoms include vomiting, severe or bloody diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Holiday Potluck Food Safety Tips

My office is having a holiday potluck next week – do you have any tips to make sure I don’t do anything that will make my co-workers sick from eating my food?

Office holiday potlucks can be great fun as long as proper food safety guidelines are followed.

It’s the holiday season and in offices across the country, coworkers are gathering together to celebrate. With that in mind, it’s a good thing that you want to take extra precautions to make sure that your world-famous seven-layer guacamole and cheese dip that you bring in to share with your office mates won’t send them home sick.

The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to adhere to good food safety guidelines. In fact, it’s a good idea to adhere to good food safety guidelines anytime you prepare food – whether it’s a small dish just for yourself or a meal you prepare to share with others.

First things first – always wash your hands before, during and after food preparation. That may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget to do this simple act when preparing food. According to a study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, only 77 percent of people say they wash their hands before handling food.

It’s also important that you don’t make food to share if you or someone in your home is sick, advises the Ohio Department of Health. Doing so could result in you unintentionally sharing those cold germs with others.

Other tips for the holiday potluck from the Ohio Department of Health and others include:

  • When deciding what to bring, consider foods that don’t require temperature control such as baked goods or pre-packaged snacks.
  • Make foods that are easy to serve with utensils to limit the need for hands to come in direct contact with the prepared food.
  • If you make a dish that is prepared off-site, make sure that you transport the food in a covered container to prevent contamination.
  • Cold foods should be kept in a cooler with ice or gel packs to keep the foods cold during transportation.
  • If you are bringing hot foods, make sure you use an insulated container to keep the foods hot during transportation.
  • Use a slow cooker, chafing dishes or other types of warmers to keep hot foods above 140 degrees throughout the potluck.
  • Perishable foods — especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs — should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours to help ensure that the food doesn’t enter the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees, where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Also, before the potluck starts, remember to let everyone know if there are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish or shellfish. And remember to throw out any foods that have been sitting out without temperature control for more than two hours.

Bon appetite!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension Educator and registered dietitian.

You’re Likely Not Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies

I want to eat healthier, but I’m not sure what that really means in terms of fruit and vegetable intake. I usually eat at least an apple, banana or some carrots every day at lunch. Am I eating enough fruits and vegetables?  

Adults should eat 1.5 to two cups of fruit per day and two to three cups of vegetables per day, according to the latest recommendations from the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

While it’s wonderful that you are eating some fruit and vegetables every day, the amount that you are eating isn’t enough for you to meet the recommended daily amount of produce.

Adults should eat 1.5 to two cups of fruit per day and two to three cups of vegetables per day, according to the latest recommendations from the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That should include a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups, such as starchy, dark greens, red and orange, beans and peas, as well as whole fruits.

However, you aren’t the only one who isn’t eating the daily recommended amount of produce. Just 12.2 percent of American adults are eating enough fruit and only 9.3 percent are eating the recommended amount of vegetables, according to a newly released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that on average, Americans adults are eating fruit only once per day and vegetables 1.7 times a day. The study surveyed adults nationwide and included a look nationally at what participants eat as well as information on how much produce people eat on a state-by-state basis.

In Ohio, for example, only 10.6 percent of adults are eating the recommended daily amount of fruits, while only 6.9 percent are eating the recommended daily amount of veggies.

This is significant because eating more fruits and vegetables are recommended to help reduce your risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity, the CDC says.

Women, on average are doing better. The studies found that nationally, more women, 10.9 percent, eat the recommended amount of vegetables. Women also topped men in eating more fruit. Among women surveyed, 15.1 percent ate the recommended amount of fruit.

So how can you incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet?

As mentioned in a previous Chow Line column, a good way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to get creative in how you prepare them. Some of the tips mentioned in the column from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include the following:

  • Use vegetables like broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini as pizza toppings.
  • Make a breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana.
  • Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla.
  • Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
  • Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves, apples or mandarin oranges.
  • Keep cut vegetables handy for midafternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner. Include red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas or whole radishes.

Even if you simply just add an additional handful of grapes or blueberries to your breakfast, some lettuce and sliced tomatoes to your sandwich at lunch, and some roasted sweet potatoes as a delicious side dish to your dinner tonight, you will be doing your body some good.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

Thanksgiving Leftovers Stored in the Fridge Safe to Eat until Tuesday

So we’ve got a lot of food leftover from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast. How long can we safely eat them?

Thanksgiving leftovers stored in the fridge safe to eat until the Tuesday after turkey day.

I’m happy to tell you that you can eat turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey omelets, turkey soup, turkey pot pie, turkey salad, turkey quesadillas, turkey tetrazzini and many other fun, tasty turkey-based dishes safely for up to four days after the big meal if you stored your leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.

And, if you choose to store the leftover turkey in the freezer, you can feast on that turkey, well, forever. While the taste and texture of the frozen meat will decline after about four months, turkey that is correctly prepped for frozen storage is safe to eat indefinitely, says the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The federal agency recommends that you remove the turkey from the bone, slice it into smaller pieces and store it in small containers if you plan to eat it within four days. If you want to store the turkey longer, you should pack it into freezer bags or other airtight containers and place it in the freezer.

For the other leftover foods, you should cover and wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers for storage in the refrigerator. This helps to keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator, USDA says. Leftover food refrigerated this way is also safe to eat up to four days.

Taking care to store leftovers correctly can help you avoid getting a bad case of foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clostridium perfringens is one of the bacteria that can grow in cooked foods that are left at room temperature for too long after cooking. It also produces toxins that cannot be inactivated by reheating the foods.

In fact, C. perfringens is the second most common bacteria causing foodborne infections. As many as one million individuals are affected by C. perfringens each year, according to the CDC. Perfringens food poisoning symptoms include severe abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea and flatulence within six to 24 hours after eating foods that contain high numbers of bacterial cells.

Another interesting fact: Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December, with many of the outbreaks linked to turkey and roast beef.

Other tips from USDA for Thanksgiving leftovers include:

  • Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.
  • Don’t store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate the stuffing and the meat separately.
  • When reheating cooked foods, be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure they have been heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember, while you are getting creative in how to serve up those Turkey Day leftovers, keep food safety in mind so that you, your family and any guests who want to feast on grandma’s special recipe green bean casserole or other traditional holiday favorites, can do so safely.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Food Safety State Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Don’t Stuff the Bird

My mom and grandma have always cooked the stuffing in the turkey each Thanksgiving. But now, I hear that practice should be avoided – why is that?  

It’s best not to cook your stuffing inside your turkey.

Despite long held traditions in many families, it’s best not to cook your stuffing inside your turkey.

This is because uncooked poultry can harbor bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey. And the only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacterium is to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a digital tip-sensitive meat thermometer to ensure that the bird has reached this temperature.

If you want to use a dial thermometer, it is important to calibrate it first, said Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

“Pop-up timers are not very reliable, so it is best to verify doneness with a digital tip-sensitive thermometer,” she said.

To measure the temperature of the turkey, you should insert the meat thermometer into three areas of the turkey to measure its internal temperature: in the thickest part of the turkey breast, in the innermost part of the wing and in the innermost part of the turkey thigh.

The concern is that placing the stuffing into the center of the raw turkey exposes the stuffing to those bacterial pathogens throughout the cooking process, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The stuffing, which is traditionally moist and made with bread or cornbread, is very porous. So as the turkey cooks, juices that may contain bacterial pathogens such as salmonella may be absorbed into the stuffing during the cooking process. Unless the stuffing is also cooked to an internal temperature of 165, it is unsafe to eat.

Even if the turkey itself has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, the stuffing may not have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that may be present, USDA says.

The safest route is to cook your stuffing separate from the turkey and then place it inside the fully cooked turkey if you want to soak up some of the rich, delicious flavor of the turkey.

Other food safety tips from USDA for turkey day:

  • Don’t wash your turkey. Washing raw meat and poultry products just spreads bacteria around your kitchen, increasing the risk for contaminating other products and making your family sick. The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Don’t leave the food out on the buffet table all day on Thanksgiving. It’s best to serve the food hot. Bacteria can grow rapidly on food that’s left out for more than two hours after cooking. If you have guests that will come over throughout the day, it’s best to keep the food in heated chafing dishes to keep the food out of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which can encourage bacteria to multiply rapidly.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology for CFAES.

Talkin’ Turkey: Three Ways to Safely Thaw and Cook Frozen Turkey

It’s my first time hosting Thanksgiving, but I’m not sure when I should start thawing the turkey or even how to thaw it – what do I do?

Following safe thawing methods for turkey is necessary to prevent the potential growth of bacterial pathogens that may have been present on the bird before it was frozen, USDA says.

If you are planning to cook a frozen turkey this year for the Thanksgiving holiday, you need to make sure that you thaw and cook it safely to help your guests avoid developing foodborne illnesses.

There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, in a container of cold water, or in a microwave, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Following safe thawing methods for turkey is necessary to prevent the potential growth of bacterial pathogens that may have been present on the bird before it was frozen, USDA says.

And while there are three ways to safely thaw your bird, USDA recommends thawing it in the refrigerator as the best method because it allows the turkey to thaw in a controlled environment out of the temperature “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — where bacteria can multiply rapidly.

Turkeys thawed in the refrigerator take one day for each 4-5 pounds of weight. So, for example, if your turkey weighs 12 pounds, it can take three days to thaw. But, once thawed, you should cook the turkey within two days to ensure safety.

If you find yourself needing to thaw the turkey using a faster method, you can place it in a container or sink and submerge it in cold water. It’s important that the turkey stay cold, so you need to ensure that the turkey is completely submerged in cold water by replacing the water with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Turkeys thawed using this method will need 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound.

Also, keep the turkey in its original wrapping while thawing, USDA advises, and consider a secondary container to catch juices and condensation as the bird defrosts.

If you want to thaw your turkey in the microwave, you will need to take it out of its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish. Use the defrost function based on the turkey’s weight, USDA says. Generally, allow six minutes per pound to thaw. Once the turkey has thawed, you should cook it immediately.

Other safe turkey tips from USDA:

  • Don’t wash your turkey! Why? Because bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey, cannot be washed off. The only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacterium is to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Washing your turkey or other raw poultry will increase the chance that you spray pathogens over other parts of your kitchen, potentially contaminating your cooking area and sink.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your cooked turkey and make sure it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You should insert the thermometer into three areas of the turkey to measure its internal temperature: in the thickest part of the turkey breast, in the innermost part of the wing and in the innermost part of the turkey thigh.
  • Refrigerate your Thanksgiving leftovers within one hour of eating to prevent any pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses from growing.

Happy Turkey Day!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.