(NC) - Talk of Thanksgiving brings to mind a cornucopia of delicious dishes. During the holidays, we often prepare larger meals than usual, which can also mean leaving food sitting at room temperature for longer periods of time, and storing more foods in our refrigerators.
As you work your Thanksgiving culinary magic, remember to practice food safety from the grocery store into the kitchen. Guests should leave with fond memories, not upset stomachs. Here are some guidelines to help you feast with food safety this Thanksgiving:
Grocery shopping should be last on your "to-do" list. Frozen foods left in the car can become warm enough to host bacteria, so it's important to get cold foods home and into the refrigerator promptly.
If you're buying frozen turkey or ham, make your purchase at least 4 to 5 days before you intend to cook it to ensure you have enough time to thaw it safely.
Avoid leaky plastic packages of raw meat and poultry. Do not allow juices to drip onto other foods. For the safest meal, look for meat in leak-proof packaging.
It is critical to cook meat thoroughly. Many hams and turkeys, including Maple Leaf products, can be purchased with an internal thermometer that pops up to tell you your meat has been cooked safely and is ready to enjoy.
Storing all that extra food safely during Thanksgiving can be challenging. Avoid overloading your refrigerator, which can cause the temperature to rise and create unsafe conditions for food storage.
Guests may offer to bring dishes to your Thanksgiving dinner. If guests' travel time exceeds two hours, suggest they bring non-perishables such as bread or cookies. Otherwise, they should wrap hot foods in foil to preserve heat and keep cold foods in a cooler with ice packs.
If your guests have been waylaid, put food on hold safely until they arrive. Adjust your oven temperature so that meat retains an internal temperature of at least 140°F (60°C). Use a meat thermometer for an accurate internal reading.
Throw out any leftovers left at room temperature for more than two hours. Be sure to reheat leftovers carefully, to a temperature of 165°F (74°C).
Remember, bacteria cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. If you have any doubts whether food is safe to eat, discard it.