Thanksgiving: Full Stomachs, Happy Memories, No Foodborne Illness

Thanksgiving is a big deal in the Golodner household.  I’ll be serving about 30 relatives from California, Michigan, and New York and several friends and family from the local area.  This is one of my favorite times of the year— tried and true recipes are resurrected, new ones tried, ingredients gathered, cooking and baking planned…all in anticipation of a memorable meal with friends and loved ones.

One thing that goes through my mind as I prepare for a flurry of activity in the kitchen is the need to pay attention to food safety.  Recently, the Water Quality & Health Council (WQ&HC) sponsored a survey to gage consumer attitudes toward kitchen surface disinfection.  The survey found that more than one in five Americans admit that their kitchen would fail a food safety inspection.  While I believe our kitchen would pass such an inspection, I want to make absolutely sure that our guests leave on Thanksgiving night with full stomachs and happy memories, not a foodborne illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses every year and more than 300,000 of them are hospitalized and 5,000 die.  The CDC also warns that raw foods of animal origin, including turkey, are the most likely foods to be contaminated.

Holiday cooking introduces increased risks of foodborne illness as raw meats and vegetables are processed on kitchen surfaces.  The WQ&HC survey shows Americans are not properly disinfecting these surfaces.  And although Americans know chlorine bleach can help reduce the risk of foodborne illness, nearly half of those surveyed overestimated the amount of bleach per gallon of water needed to effectively kill common foodborne germs.

Here are the steps I pay attention to:

  • Clean – wash all food contact surfaces with hot, soapy water followed by disinfecting with 1/2 tablespoon chlorine bleach in 1/2 gallon of water. Do this before and after working with raw foods.
  • Separate – keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Cook – to kill any bacteria that might be present, thoroughly cook meat, poultry and eggs to the appropriate temperature.
  • Chill – refrigerate leftover perishables at 40 degrees within 2 hours of cooking or serving.

Practicing good kitchen hygiene is not very complicated, but it sure is important in keeping holiday memories good ones.  Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving.

(Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)