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Food Handling Tips for New Cooks

As Turkey Day approaches, learn how to add fresh flavor to your cooking while avoiding germs with these tips from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Since the holidays are a prime time to chow down, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has found that each year the stuffing face can turn into stomach ache if you're not careful.

During the holidays, the department winds up investigating cases of food-borne illness as a result of undercooked food or poor food handling, according to a statement released Thursday.

While most people easily overcome such illnesses, symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening in older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and those weakened  immune systems, according to the county.

As you try your hands in the kitchen this Thanksgiving, here are tips on how to handle food properly:

To thaw a turkey (by refrigerator, cold water or microwave):

  • Place frozen turkey in original wrapper in the refrigerator (40° F or below). Allow approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. After thawing, keep turkey refrigerated for only 1-2 days before cooking. 
  • A turkey that has been thawed in the refrigerator can be re-frozen. It is not recommended to refreeze a turkey that has been thawed using other methods.
  • Place securely wrapped turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately after thawing. 
  • Check to see if the turkey is not too large and fits comfortably in the microwave. Check manufacturer's instructions for the size of turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to use for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

To cook a turkey:

  • When roasting a whole turkey, use a food thermometer to make sure it cooks to 165° F or higher. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not against the bone.
  • For safety and uniform doneness, cook stuffing separately in a casserole dish. 
  • For pre-cooked turkey dinners, eat within 2 hours or refrigerate components separately, then reheat to a temperature of at least 165° F.

When purchasing a fresh turkey, plan to cook it within 1-2 days after purchase. Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. If not handled properly, any harmful bacteria that may be in the stuffing can multiply very quickly. Frozen pre- stuffed turkeys are safe because they have been processed under controlled conditions. Do not thaw frozen pre- stuffed turkeys. Cook from the frozen state by following package directions.

Other food handling tips include:

  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cutting into them.
  • Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods such as fruits and vegetables. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, knives, and platters for these foods.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, and platters after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when re-heating.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Use chafing dishes or pans with Sternos or other heating devices, or keep foods in the oven at a temperature to ensure they remain at 135° F or above.
  • Keep cold foods cold. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Throw out foods that should have been kept cold, but have been left out for more than two hours.
  • "Taste testing" food or drinks to see if they have spoiled is not recommended.

— Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.


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