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WSU professor has some timely food safety suggestions

 Karen Killinger  holds a test-tube of generic E. coli  in her lab at Washington State University in Pullman on Friday.  (Tyler Tjomsland)
Karen Killinger holds a test-tube of generic E. coli in her lab at Washington State University in Pullman on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Turkey is on the menu this week, and Karen Killinger, a food safety specialist at Washington State University, offers a few tips to keep Thanksgiving celebrants fat and happy rather than sick and miserable.

Q. Do you stuff your turkey?

A. No, I do not stuff my turkey. The safest method for preparation of stuffing is to prepare it separately. If consumers do choose to stuff the turkey, it is important to check both the temperature of the stuffing and the turkey to ensure both reach 165 degrees.

Q. Don’t you think that stuffing in the turkey tastes better?

A. Well … No. I don’t think it tastes better. But I think my dad would disagree. So if I went home for Thanksgiving the turkey would be stuffed.

Q. What is the most serious everyday food safety problem in the kitchens of America’s cooks?

A. It’s difficult to drill it down to one. But there are four practices to help improve food safety in the kitchen: Clean, separate, cook and chill. Follow those four things.

To clean, use detergent followed by a sanitizer to keep surfaces clean. Frequent hand-washing is very important.

Keeping raw food items separate from cooked items is important to prevent cross-contamination.

Cooking food products to the appropriate recommended temperatures can significantly decrease the presence of potential pathogens.

And chilling food items quickly after preparation is important.

The temperature danger zone for foods is between 40 degrees to 140 degrees. It’s important to keep cold foods cold and hot food hot.

When foods sit out on the counter and fall within that temperature range is when there is an opportunity for rapid microbial growth.

Q. What about thawing the turkey?

A. It’s definitely important to take into account that it’s going to take a long time to thaw the turkey. Leave sufficient time to thaw the bird in the refrigerator. Don’t leave it to thaw on the counter or in the sink.

Q. What’s the one thing cooks can do to make sure the Thanksgiving meal they are serving is safe for their guests?

A. Pay attention to the time foods are left out at room temperature. It basically should be one to two hours. After that they need to be refrigerated. So after dinner, cleaning up and not taking a long break is important.

Q. Is Thanksgiving the most dangerous meal of the year?

A. I think people should think about food safety in their homes every day.

Q. Have you ever been sick because of something you ate?

A. Yes. Definitely. Culture confirmed.

The current data available indicates that 1 in 4 people will suffer from a food-borne illness every year. It’s much more common than people think.

Oftentimes what people call the stomach flu or the 24-hour flu is a food-borne illness. But most of the time, for most people, it’s a relatively mild occurrence.

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