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December 19, 2003
For immediate release

Chief Health Officer Advises Islanders to Take Food Safety Precautions Throughout the Holiday Season

Health and Social Services

With Christmas just a few days away, Chief Health Officer Dr. Lamont Sweet is urging Islanders to take extra precautions when preparing and storing food, especially traditional offerings such as turkey, dressing and gravy.

“During this time of year, families and friends may be gathering together to share holiday meals, and often the star attraction is a large turkey with all the trimmings,” said Dr. Sweet. “With a lot of food around, not enough fridge space and a turkey that takes a long time to cook, extra care must be taken to prevent food poisoning.”

Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning may occur if proper techniques are not followed when buying, preparing and cooking a turkey. Safe food preparation is not difficult or time consuming, but with pressure to do a lot at once on Christmas Day and throughout the holiday period, the hygiene risks can be increased. Forgetting the basic hygiene rules could leave people suffering from unpleasant symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Dr. Sweet offered the following tips to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness:

• Take the guesswork out of cooking; use a meat thermometer.

• Keep hot foods hot, at least 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) and keep cold foods cold at 4 degrees C (40 degrees F) or colder.

• Fresh turkey should be purchased no more than two days before cooking. It should be immediately refrigerated at a temperature of 4 degrees C (40 degrees F) or lower.

• Never thaw turkey on the kitchen counter.

• Allow four to six days to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator (about 24 hours of defrosting time for each 2.5 kg/5 pounds of turkey). Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator in a large container or on a platter big enough to prevent leaking juices from contaminating other foods in the refrigerator.

• Turkey can be defrosted under cold running water, but it should be wrapped in leak proof plastic to help prevent cross-contamination.

• If thawing turkey in the microwave, cook the turkey immediately after thawing is complete.

• Do not let any juices from the turkey come in contact with other food or food preparation equipment. Immediately after preparing the turkey, wash and sanitize the sink, counter tops, utensils and anything else that came in contact with the turkey with a mild bleach solution. Rinse with clean water.

• Never slow-cook turkey. Set the oven no lower than 177 degrees C (350 degrees F) and use a food thermometer to check that the turkey reaches a minimum internal temperature of 85 degrees C (185 degrees F).

• The stuffing should reach a minimum internal temperature of 74 degrees C (165 degrees F).

• Wash your hands often. Proper handwashing is extremely important during food preparation, especially after handling an uncooked turkey.

• Always wash the food thermometer and other utensils you used on raw or partially cooked foods before reusing them.

• Serve turkey and stuffing immediately. Keep the rest of the turkey and stuffing hot at a minimum 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) in the oven, not on the counter top.

• To store, remove meat from the bone. Refrigerate leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly. Store meat, stuffing and gravy separately. Once food is cooled in the refrigerator, cover.

• When reheating leftovers, heat to 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) or hotter. Always bring gravy to a full, rolling boil and stir during the reheating process.

• Use leftovers within two to three days.

“It pays to play it safe when cooking, serving and storing food,” the Health Officer added. “Have a safe and happy holiday season!”

Media Contact: Connie McNeill
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