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By Bill Weaver

November 21, 2012 (San Diego) – Thanksgiving is almost upon us and family and friends will come together to celebrate. Food safety is very important because large amounts of food are often prepared and served. Here are a few safety tips to prevent microscopic unwanted guests from joining your party:

PLAN AHEAD: Decide how much food can be safely served. Take into account available cooking and refrigerator space. Defrosting a frozen turkey? Plan ahead for safe, slow thawing in your refrigerator. A large turkey requires at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight. Get your meat thermometer ready for a busy day! And don’t forget: Always buy food from a safe source, such as a market or restaurant.

CLEAN: Wash your hands before and after handling food. Thoroughly rinse whole raw produce before using. Wash and sanitize the counters, cutting boards and equipment before and after preparing your holiday feast.

SEPARATE: Keep produce separated from raw meat products. Place turkey on a plate or in a pan at the bottom of the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods when defrosting. When the bird is defrosted, it can remain refrigerated for 1-2 days before cooking. Try using separate cutting boards for meat and fruits or vegetables — or thoroughly wash your cutting board with hot soapy water between uses.

COOK: Cook turkey and stuffing to 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to ensure proper cooking temperatures are reached. The temperature of a whole turkey must reach 165ºF in the innermost part of the thigh. The safest way to cook stuffing is separate from the bird. Germs can thrive in the stuffing ingredients if it is improperly cooked in the turkey. Gravy should be reheated to a boil and leftovers, if heated, should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F.

CHILL:  Keep cold foods at 41oF or less. Check the temperature inside your refrigerator. If preparing foods ahead of time, refrigerate to minimize bacterial growth. Cut leftover turkey into small pieces or slices. Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.

For more information and holiday food-safety tips go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website,

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