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Holiday Feast Cooking Tips From Health Officials

RoastTurkeyThis Thanksgiving, add fresh flavor and avoid foodborne illness with these healthy and easy tips from the Department of Public Health.

“Everyone has a favorite Thanksgiving casserole or side dish, but why not introduce a few new, fresh dishes this year? Add salads and other dishes that feature fresh fruits and vegetables and inspire your loved ones and guests in making healthier choices,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. “Enjoy sensible portions, pile on fresh veggies, and share good health around the table this Thanksgiving.”


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For ideas on easy to prepare, ethnically-inspired recipes that add a twist to this year’s holiday meal, go to www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/nutrition/cookbook/cookbookmain.htm to download ¡Es Fácil! Libro de Recetas (It’s Easy! Recipe Book), a low-fat cookbook written in English and Spanish from Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition), an outreach by the Public Health Nutrition Program. These recipes were created and tested in the family kitchens of community members from Highland Park .

“Thanksgiving is traditionally opening day for a season of overeating. It can instead be a day of enjoying family and friends and reflecting on what you are grateful for. It's also a chance to create a healthy eating pattern for all of the holiday temptations ahead,” said Jean Tremaine, MA, MPH, Director of Public Health’s Nutrition Program. “Instead of piling a bit of everything on your plate, have a reasonable portion of your favorite once-a-year specialties and leave some of the other dishes. Focus on quality rather than quantity and set the tone for eating well throughout the holiday season. You'll be really pleased with the difference in how you feel and your overall health this January.”

Food Handling Tips

Each year Public Health investigates cases of food borne illness during the holidays that are the result of undercooked food and poor food handling practices. Typical symptoms of food borne illness (sometimes known as food poisoning) include stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, all of which can start hours or days after consuming contaminated food or drink. For healthy people, most symptoms usually go away after a few hours or days without treatment. But food borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening in older adults, infants and young children, pregnant women, and those with conditions that weaken their immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer drug therapy.

Raw turkey, chicken, or meats can contain Campylobacter, Salmonella or E.coli bacteria that cause diarrhea and other problems. These bacteria can multiply rapidly when poultry is taken out of refrigeration and before it is thoroughly cooked. Freezing does not kill these bacteria, but they are destroyed when food is cooked to the proper temperature.

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.
  • Raw or lightly cooked egg or egg products, used in foods such as salad dressings, cookie or cake batter, sauces such as hollandaise sauce, and beverages such as eggnog, can cause food borne illnesses. Avoid eating uncooked items containing raw or lightly cooked egg or egg products. Substitute pasteurized eggs when cooking these foods.

If you get a food-borne illness, seek medical attention.

For more information on safe cooking, visit the USDA website at: http://www.usda.gov/ or call their toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. For the Hearing Impaired: 1-800-256-7072 (TTY). You may speak with a food safety specialist, in English or Spanish, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time during the week year round. An extensive menu of recorded food safety messages may be heard 24 hours a day.

The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County . Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Public Health comprises nearly 4,000 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $750 million. To learn more about Public Health and the work we do please visit http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov, visit our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/lapublichealth, find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lapublichealth, or follow us on Twitter: LAPublicHealth.