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The safest way to thaw a whole turkey is in the refrigerator, so allow 24 hours thawing for each four to five pounds of turkey.

Holiday food safety tips, hotline

Statement as issued Wednesday by the Indiana State Department of Health:

INDIANAPOLIS—Thanksgiving is a time when many Hoosiers will gather with friends and family to give thanks and enjoy a meal together. While enjoying this food-centric holiday, follow a few simple steps to prevent foodborne illnesses from ruining the festivities.

"The single best way to prepare and consume food safely is to wash your hands before cooking, serving or eating," said State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin, M.D. "That's especially important if you've been handling raw meat."

Food temperature is also important. If food will be served hot, make sure to cook it fully before serving it. On the other hand, if a food is intended to be served cold, keep it cold. For example, if a cold pasta salad is being served, store it in a refrigerator or a cooler (at or below 40° F) and put it out on the table right before dinner. Do not let food that should stay cold sit out for longer than two hours.

Another effective technique to avoid foodborne illness is to buy a meat thermometer and use it to make sure that meat is cooked to its appropriate temperature. When preparing a turkey, the minimum internal temperature must reach 165° F for safety. If you don't have a meat thermometer, cook the turkey until the juices run clear.

Dr. Larkin recommends the following additional tips for a safe and happy Thanksgiving meal:

• Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables.

• Check the refrigerator prior to food preparation for space and temperature. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure the temperature is at or below 40° F.

• Plan for thawing time. The safest way to thaw a whole turkey is in the refrigerator, so allow 24 hours thawing for each four to five pounds of turkey.

• Have one or more food thermometers on hand to measure the temperature of turkey, other meats, seafood, side dishes and casseroles. A conventional thermometer should be used in addition to any pop-up indicator that may be on a turkey.

• Have plenty of paper towels or clean cloth towels on hand for cleaning of surfaces, drying hands and for blotting dry fresh fruits and vegetables after rinsing. When using cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washer.

• Have shallow storage containers with lids on hand for safely storing leftovers within two hours of dinner.

• If guests offer to contribute a dish to the festivities, ask them to bring items that don't require refrigeration, such as bread, rolls, beverages or cookies and cakes without cream or egg fillings.

• Plan to have a cooler of ice on hand to store beverages, freeing up refrigerator space and helping to avoid having guests going in and out of the refrigerator during meal preparation.

• Anyone experiencing illness such as diarrhea, vomiting, cramps and/or sore throat with fever should not prepare or serve food to others.

Have questions about thawing or cooking a turkey? Experts are just a phone call away at the USDA meat and poultry hotline, 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). The hotline operates Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET and will operate on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET.

To learn more about food safety, visit the Indiana State Department of Health's website at www.StateHealth.in.gov.

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