The Worst Thing You're Doing at Thanksgiving, Infectious Disease Doc Says


Thanksgiving is a joyful time for gathering with loved ones and sharing an abundance of indulgent food. But under all the festivity lurks some potential for danger—and we're not just talking about the COVID surge that appears to be taking shape around the country in time for the holiday season. In fact, there are risks involved with the holiday meal that were around long before the novel coronavirus. Read on to learn a major mistake to watch out for, as well as more ways you can mitigate your potential for food danger around the Thanksgiving table, according to Jeanne Breen, MD, infectious disease physician and advisor to Force of Nature.

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Never bake stuffing inside the turkey.

Foodborne illnesses pose a risk when holiday guests ingest any food that has come in contact with raw turkey and not been cooked properly. That's why Breen advises cooking stuffing separately instead of inside the bird as a way to better control the cooking method.

"I always bake my stuffing separately instead of inside of the turkey, because I can't be sure the temperature in the cavity is high enough to kill potential pathogens like Salmonella," she says. "If you do prefer cooking your stuffing in the turkey, it's advisable to wait about 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before transferring the stuffing to a serving bowl; this allows it to cook a little more."

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Wash as many dishes as possible in the dishwasher, where high heat kills germs.

Breen recommends loading up that dishwasher with as many elements of the food prep as possible, as the water in the cycle reaches the necessary temperature. "I put as much as I can into the dishwasher because I know the water temperature will get hot enough to kill germs," she says."A lot of people don't remember to disinfect the container, cooler, or pan that they brine their turkey in, and that can be a big problem because of the Salmonella risk."

Turkey parts and packaging should be disposed of in a place out of reach of the family dog, because pets can get foodborne illnesses too, Breen notes.

Refrigerate Thanksgiving leftovers promptly.

Shutterstock/Foxys Forest Manufacture

"Don't let any leftovers sit out at room temperature," the doctor warns. "Be sure to refrigerate them promptly." This means ideally within two hours of preparation. And be sure to reheat them well—to at least 165 degrees—before you enjoy a second holiday meal.

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Use disposable towels and encourage proper hand washing.

To reduce the risk of germ spread when she has company over, Breen offers disposable paper towels instead of cloth hand towels in the bathroom. "And when my visitors include young children, I put a little reminder on the bathroom mirror with tips for proper hand washing because they may not always remember to be thorough," she says.

Don't allow Thanksgiving guests to double dip.
Shutterstock/Yulia Grigoryeva

Serve appetizers that guests can eat without spreading their germs to others unnecessarily. "This might make food preparation a little more challenging," Breen says, "but I never make appetizers—like dips or salsa—that enable multiple people to sample the same bowl. With COVID-19 and multi-generational gatherings, I like to be cautious."

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