Food Safety Tips From the Safe Plates Team

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Every year, this column is a challenge to write. Because of the Thursday holiday, it’s hard to know when people will read it… before, on, or after Thanksgiving. So, I decided on sharing some food safety tips from the NCSU Safe Plates Food Safety Information Center. Some of this may be too late for your Thanksgiving dinner, but I hope most will be useful as we move into the busy holiday season filled with lots of food.

  • Don’t wash your turkey. Washing the turkey or any poultry won’t wash away or kill bacteria—only cooking to the proper temperature (165 degrees f) can do that. The problem with washing is the SPLASH. Pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter can spread up to three feet from the sink in splashed water. If you feel you “must” rinse blood or ice from the inside of the turkey, do so carefully and clean the area completely afterward.
  • Avoid leaving food to sit at room temperature. When food sits at room temperature, bacteria that make people sick can grow quickly. After the meal, quickly cool the food and store it at 41 degrees F or below. Perishable foods, such as those containing animal products, cooked vegetables, and grains, should be tossed or composted after four hours at room temperature.
  • Store Pumpkin Pie correctly. Pies purchased at room temperature from a grocery store may be stored at room temperature. Homemade pies should be refrigerated after cooling.
  • Consider allergens. Label or make guests aware if there are common allergens in foods such as milk, eggs, tree nuts, shellfish and mollusks, fish, soy, peanuts, wheat, or sesame seeds. Prevent cross-contact by providing a serving utensil for each dish instead of using the same utensil for different foods.
  • Good Gravy. Gravy has been linked to people getting sick from a pathogen known as Clostridium perfringens. Keep family and friends safe by keeping gravy at 135 degrees F or above. Try using a gravy warmer or small slow cooker or keep the pot on the stove, serve a small amount of gravy at a time and refill the gravy boat frequently.
  • Safe Baked Goods. Use pasteurized egg whites for frostings and icings t decrease the risk of illness, especially if they will be eaten by those more susceptible to a foodborne illness such as children, elderly, pregnant, or immune suppressed. Wash hands often and avoid licking fingers when handling and decorating baked goods. Baked goods have been linked to Norovirus and Staph aureus outbreaks.
  • Say NO to raw dough. Baked goods should be cooked thoroughly for food safety. Raw flour and raw eggs may contain bacteria that cause illness. Clean countertops and utensils with warm water and soap after working with doughs and batters. Use a kitchen sanitizer on surfaces.
  • Food gifts. Many baked goods, like bread and cookies, can be stored at room temperature. Keep them covered to prevent contamination. Baked goods with cream, custard, cheese, meat and/or vegetable filings, and cream frostings should be refrigerated.
  • Eggnog safety. Like milk, store-bought eggnog has been pasteurized. Pasteurization uses heat to kill the harmful tiny microbes that can make you sick. The concern is the raw eggs in homemade eggnog. When making eggnog, cook the egg base to 160 degrees F or use pasteurized eggs. Adding alcohol will NOT make the eggnog safe.

The Safe Plates Food Safety Information Center (FSIC) is an on-line resource that
shares science-based food safety information for anyone who cooks and eats. It’s
produced by food safety specialists at North Carolina Cooperative Extension and NC
State University. The FSIC can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and there are even some Tik Tok posts to help people make safe food choices.

Best wishes from all of us at N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Brunswick County Center for a happy and food safe Thanksgiving!

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at