Focus on safety with prep for holiday meal

I host Thanksgiving dinner for extended family every year. I am never as organized as I hope to be and get totally stressed out. Now some older family members are battling serious health issues, and I’m especially concerned about making sure I do everything properly so no one gets sick. Any tips?

Actually, the fact that you recognize some people are more susceptible to foodborne illness indicates you are much more on top of things than you might think. Unfortunately, food safety issues during the holidays often take a back seat to other matters — like who will have to sit at the “kiddie table.”

Planning ahead is key to keeping yourself calm and collected during the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle, and to making sure food safety takes precedence. For example, consider these tips from Countdown to Thanksgiving on

  • A few weeks before Thanksgiving, start clearing the refrigerator to make sure you have plenty of room to thaw the turkey. A 16- to 20-pound turkey takes four to five days to thaw in the refrigerator, and it takes up a lot of space. So, don’t wait until you bring the turkey home from the grocery store. Eat up those leftovers. Put that bottled water back in the pantry to have space later.
  • Make sure you have a meat thermometer that’s easy to use and that you trust. Turkey needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F throughout. You need to test it at the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. You can’t do that with the pop-up thermometer that comes with the turkey.

Taking these issues seriously is important, especially for people with health problems such as diabetes and cancer, which weaken the immune system. That decreases their bodies’ ability to fight off foodborne illness. Other at-risk populations are people 65 and older — even those who are otherwise healthy — pregnant women, and children under age 5. What might cause a mild gastrointestinal illness for someone else could send these people to the hospital. Why? Again, from

  • As people age, the gastrointestinal tract holds onto food longer and the stomach produces less acid, allowing bacteria more of a chance to grow and cause havoc. And, the liver and kidneys can have more trouble ridding the body of foreign bacteria and toxins as we age.
  • Young children’s stomachs also produce less acid, and their immune systems are still developing. That’s why children under 5 have the highest incidence of many types of foodborne illness, and are more at risk for serious complications. In addition, small bodies are more susceptible to dehydration from the diarrhea that often accompanies foodborne illness.

Given the potential for such consequences, planning ahead and taking food safety precautions makes sense. For more holiday guidance, see and search for “Thanksgiving.”

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or  

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Do not (I repeat) do not rinse the turkey

chow_112015-508424345I see conflicting guidance about whether or not to rinse the turkey before roasting it. So, should I or shouldn’t I?

Despite what you might read in your favorite cookbook or go-to online recipe site, food safety authorities are steadfast in their warning not to rinse off raw turkey.

This has been the recommendation for years, in fact. Unfortunately, if you search the Internet, you may find many faulty recommendations that involve rinsing and pat drying the turkey before setting it in the roasting pan. This just doesn’t make sense, and causes more problems than it solves.

The reason is twofold: First, rinsing doesn’t work. It’s true that raw poultry sold in the U.S. is often contaminated with Campylobacter, Salmonella or some other bacteria. It’s also true that poultry is the fourth most common food associated with foodborne illness, and the most common culprit behind deaths from foodborne illness in the U.S. But research by the British Food Standards Agency between 2000 and 2003 showed that rinsing off whole poultry, or beef for that matter, does not actually remove all of the bacteria from the surface of the meat.

Second, and even more important, the act of rinsing off the turkey can actually splatter some bacteria from the surface of the meat all over your sink, onto your kitchen counter and over to anything that happens to be around it — the just-washed breakfast dishes in the drainer, for example, or the cutting board where you’re about to prepare a relish tray. Some estimates say the splatter can spread up to 3 feet away. The researchers examined what happens when people rinse off raw meat, and they concluded that the only effect is that it actually increases the likelihood of contaminating your hands and nearby surfaces. And it’s likely to strike places where you’ll be preparing foods that will not be cooked or roasted in an oven for a few hours where all that bacteria will be destroyed.

What’s more, most people don’t clean up properly. According to the research, people tend to wipe down a counter or sink with a damp cloth and figure they’ve taken care of any microbiological hazard. Sure, you may be more careful than that. After the turkey is in the oven you might wash everything down with hot, soapy water, rinse it off, let it dry and then follow up with a santizing cloth or bleach solution. But it’s Thanksgiving Day — do you really have time for that? Wouldn’t you agree that it’s much easier not to rinse off the turkey in the first place?

So, if your step-by-step guide to preparing Thanksgiving dinner includes the recommendation to rinse off the turkey, please skip that step, and you can feel quite smug about the decision. But be sure to wash your hands, and do so properly — with soap, for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under warm running water, and drying with a clean cloth or paper towel. Washing your hands properly and often is the best thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness.

For more food safety guidance for the holidays and all year round, see

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Holiday ideas to ‘maintain, not gain’

181431584I’ve lost 30 pounds this year. During the holidays, I want to make sure I “maintain, not gain.” Any hints? 

First, congratulations on your weight loss. You should be proud.

You probably already know this, but it’s not easy to keep weight off once you do lose it. Experts continue to examine why that is. Some cite a lack of emphasis on maintenance in weight-loss programs; others believe biology plays a stronger role, blaming significant changes in metabolism during and after weight loss. Those changes often make battling weight regain a Herculean task.

Despite the challenges, there’s hope. Here are some ideas that could help you attain your no-weight-gain goal during the holidays:

  • Be aware that you’re going to encounter a lot of cues that will tempt you to indulge in special treats. Try to counter the temptation by keeping reminders of the positive results when you resist the urge. For example, post photos of your new, svelte self on your refrigerator, inside your pantry and even on your office desk, especially if your workplace tends to be generous with holiday goodies. Another idea: Buy some healthy-living magazines and place them in spots where you know they’ll catch your eye.
  • Know your trigger foods and the times of day when you run into trouble, and ask for help. If you know you have trouble resisting nacho chips at holiday parties, ask a friend to help you keep yourself under control. If you tend to have difficulty when you’re home alone in the evenings, ask someone to call or text you each night for the next few weeks with a gentle reminder to stay the course. Such support can go a long way.
  • Think about tactics you’ve used in the past and renew those efforts: Keep a stash of celery sticks in the refrigerator to fill up on before going to a party. Brush your teeth after every meal. Park at the farthest parking space to help you add steps to your day. Think about what works for you, and make the decision to do it.
  • Be vigilant about sticking with your regular healthy routine: eating a healthy breakfast, drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s rest and engaging in some type of physical activity every day. Keep yourself accountable by keeping a daily record.
  • Give yourself permission to enjoy the foods of the holiday season, but in moderation. Go ahead and savor a few bites of your favorite treat, but realize you don’t need to eat the whole portion. And, look for ways to be kind to yourself that don’t involve food, such as going to a mind-body class like yoga or Pilates. The rewards are great — and you’ll begin the new year on the right track.

Give thanks for great leftovers

152538549I think the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers, but last year our leftover turkey didn’t last very long, and we had to throw a lot of it away. What’s the best way to make leftovers last? 

Generally, leftovers stored in the refrigerator last only three or four days. That surprises a lot of people, who think they might be good for a week or longer.

This year, refrigerate only the turkey you think you’ll use in the next few days and store the rest in the freezer, where it should be fine for two to six months.

Here are some detailed leftover and storage tips for holiday foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:

  • Make sure perishable foods are left at room temperature for no longer than two hours before you refrigerate or freeze them. Bacteria can multiply rapidly between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, so limit the amount of time food is in that “danger zone.”
  • If the leftovers you’re storing are very hot, take steps so they’ll cool rapidly to reach the safe temperature of 40 degrees or below as quickly as possible. For example, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. Slice turkey off the bone into smaller pieces.
  • After cooling, wrap leftovers well, in airtight packaging or in sealed storage containers. Not only will it keep bacteria out, but it helps the leftovers retain moisture, whether they’re stored in the refrigerator or the freezer. It also prevents leftovers from picking up odors from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • When freezing leftovers, mark the package with a date. Although freezing temperatures of 0 degrees F or below cause microbes to become dormant, preventing the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness, keeping foods frozen for too long can affect their quality. If your home freezer has a “quick freeze” option, use it, as rapidly freezing foods prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming. If you have a free-standing freezer in addition to your refrigerator-freezer, use it, as it likely stays colder because it’s not opened as often.
  • When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a food thermometer.

For more, see the website with the USDA’s Safe Food Handling Fact Sheets at Scroll down to “Leftovers and Food Safety.”