Public information: Health officials urge food safety over holidays

Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) officials encourage consumers to take appropriate precautions in handling, preparing and cooking foods during the upcoming holiday season.

To ensure that the holiday foods are safe, follow these basic safety steps to avoid foodborne illness:

Clean: Wash hands and food-contact surfaces often. Bacteria and other organisms can spread from contaminated hands and other surfaces throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, knives, sponges and counter tops.

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Don’t let bacteria spread from one food product to another. Wash hands, cutting boards and utensils after they contact raw meats, poultry or eggs.

Cook: Cook to proper temperatures. Foods are properly cooked when they are heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Proper cooking temperatures of some foods include:

Fish steaks and beef steaks - 145 degrees or higher

Ground meat - 155 degrees or higher

Poultry (turkey) and stuffed food items - 165 degrees or higher

Chill: Refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Cool foods in smaller portions to lower the temperature quickly. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees and the freezer at zero degrees. The accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer. The temperature danger zone between 40 to 140 degrees is optimal for rapid bacteria growth. Foods should be discarded if they are in this temperature danger zone for more than four hours. Discard food that has been in the refrigerator for more than seven days. When in doubt, throw it out.

Safely thaw turkey: To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, thawing the turkey completely in a refrigerator before cooking is important. If a turkey is not properly thawed, the bird will cook unevenly, and the inside will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria.

Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw and cook a whole turkey. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs two to three days to thaw completely in the refrigerator. Do not thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter or in the sink.

To check a turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast of the turkey. The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 165 degrees. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should also be 165 degrees.

More information about food safety and additional cooking temperatures is available by visiting or call the Coconino County Health and Human Services Environmental Health program at 928-679-8750 or toll-free 877-679-7272.

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