Thanksgiving tips for a top-notch, safe feast

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(WFXR) — Since Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) reminds amateur chefs that proper food prep can make the difference between a feast and a yuck-fest.

  • Keep food properly stored. According to VDACS, bacteria can spread quickly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, save your frozen and refrigerated goods for last when you go to the grocery store and unload them first when you get home. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees at most and the freezer does not exceed zero degrees.
  • Don’t just clean the food, but clean everything that touches the food. That means thoroughly sanitizing your hands, utensils, dishes, dishcloths, cookware, and even the kitchen counter.
  • Remember that cooking is about safety as much as it is about flavor. In order to rid your meal of harmful microorganisms, VDACS suggests that you “Cook ground meats until there is no pink left and the internal temperature reaches 160° F…Cook meat, poultry, fish, egg dishes and casseroles thoroughly in one operation. Do not cook partially and plan to complete the cooking process later.”
  • Separate raw foods and cooked foods — particularly, their juices — at all times. Prepare raw ingredients on separate plates, marinate meats on the bottom shelf of the fridge so their juices don’t contaminate other foods, and never reuse the marinade from raw meat.
  • If you’re dining with wintry weather, do not expose perishables to room temperature for more than two hours. For larger meals, use smaller serving dishes then replace the empty dishes with food stored in the fridge or the oven. Warming trays, electric serving dishes, or bowls of ice can help keep food at the proper temperature during the serving process.
  • Throw away any food that sat out for more than two hours. Any remaining leftovers should be refrigerated immediately. For larger servings of hot food, separate and refrigerate them in smaller portions to speed up the cooling process. Cooked dishes have a shelf life of three days while stuffing and gravy will last for two, and when you pull them out, “Reheat all leftovers to at least 165° F and heat gravy to a rolling boil.”

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