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Follow These Tips so Bacteria's Not on Holiday Menu

Avoid making your Thanksgiving guests ill by following these precautions recommended by the Will County Health Department.

Unless you have some ulterior motive, in which case you may end up in Plainfield Patch's police news, the goal when cooking a Thanksgiving feast is for your guests to enjoy the meal rather than be sickened by it.

Nearly 8,000 Americans died from foodborne illnesses in 2011 and many thousands more were hospitalized, according to the Will County Health Department. To avoid that fate with your guests, the health department offers these precautions to keep your holiday meal safe:

1. Never thaw frozen foods at room temperature, and never thaw anything in the sink or on the counter unless you want to create an environment for bacterial growth. Instead, the safest method is in a refrigerator set at 41 degrees or below.

2. When thawing a frozen turkeys, allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of meat. A 20-pound turkey, for example, will require approximately four days to completely thaw in a refrigerator set at 41 degrees or lower.

3. Always cook stuffing separately from the turkey. When you place it inside the bird, cooking temperatures may not reach 165 degrees, which is what is needed to minimize the potential for bacterial growth.

4. Turkey and poultry must reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degree before being served. Pork, ground meats and ground fish should always be cooked to at least 155 degrees. Fish should be cooked at 145 degrees. A metal stem thermometer, which can be purchased at any grocery store, should be used to guarantee proper cooking temperature.

5. Wash your hands before, during and after food preparation, especially after touching raw meat or pountry. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.

6. Use separate utensils for each food you prepare to avoid cross-contamination. Dirty hands, utensils and other soiled equipment can easily transfer potentially dangerous bacteria from one food to another during preparation. Clean counters, cutting boards and other surfaces frequently.

7. Refrigerate leftovers as quickly as possible, storing them in shallow containers no deeper than three inches. Avoid leaving leftovers out at room temperature.

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