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Make food safety a holiday tradition
(CNN) -- The same holiday tables that groan with delightful treats also may harbor disease-causing bacteria. But there are lots of strategies available to keep the celebration from leaving the dining room for the hospital emergency room.
Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 people in the United States are hospitalized, and 5,000 die from foodborne illness. A staggering 76 million are sickened.
"Most poultry contain harmful bacteria," said Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. "Recent statistics show that about 60 percent of chickens -- broilers -- are contaminated with campylobacter, and 10 percent with salmonella. And turkeys tend to be higher."
Both organisms, along with listeria, which can lurk even in refrigerated leftovers, where the bacteria can continue to grow, can cause big problems.
"It's important that we think about fresh poultry containing potentially harmful bacteria," Doyle said.
Bacteria multiply rapidly when food is left at room temperature (40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 to 60 degrees Celsius). The accepted standard is that most foods should remain on a banquet table no longer than two hours before they are tossed.
And holiday meals, which can be daylong, multi-course affairs with diners who sneak back for third- or fourth-helping snacks, can beget a bonanza of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.
Key ingredient to food safety
Symptoms of foodborne illness can range from mild distress to more serious problems such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting and life-threatening dehydration.
An average person is host to some 150 kinds of bacteria at any given time, according to the Atlanta, Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meats, poultry, fish and even raw fruits and vegetables also commonly contain bacteria.
While there are many common-sense approaches to food safety, a key weapon to use against illness-causing bacteria is as simple as a food thermometer.
Most all reheated foods, including stuffing, need to reach a temperature hot enough to kill bacteria. For egg-containing sauces, custards and casseroles, that's 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).
The United States Department of Agriculture reports that just 50 percent of cooks actually bother with a thermometer, which the USDA sees as a critical problem -- especially for turkey and stuffing.
Roasting time guidelines
National Turkey Federation guidelines call for prime doneness when turkey temperatures reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit (77 degrees Celsius) in the breast and 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius) in the thigh.
"Accurate temperatures, both in the oven and the turkey, are important for quality and safety," according to the federation.
Using recommended roasting times also is helpful to ensure doneness. The federation's timetable suggests setting the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius). Cooking times range from a low of 2 3/4 hours for an un-stuffed 8- to 12-pound turkey to a maximum of 5 1/4 hours for a stuffed 20- to 24-pound bird.
Still, "temperature is the true indicator that your turkey is ready," said federation spokeswoman Sherrie Rosenblatt. "Throw away those old cookbooks with incorrect cooking timetables and purchase a food thermometer to not only use at Thanksgiving, but all year long."
Food thermometers are very easy to use, especially the newer pop-up, digital, instant-read and disposable varieties.
Survey takes temperature of food safety knowledge
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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