Gathering again? Tips for a Safe and Healthy Thanksgiving
For families who were content with small gatherings and blessings from a distance during the height of the pandemic, this Thanksgiving feels like the return of the big holiday.
More people are getting together this year, with the American Automobile Association predicting holiday travel will return to near pre-pandemic levels.
If that’s the case with you, maybe it’s been a while since you’ve faced a frozen turkey or remembered which cousins shouldn’t sit together.
To help you brush up on vacation basics, here are some tips to keep everyone safe, healthy, and sane:
The big bird is the focus of most Thanksgiving meals, but it’s important to handle raw poultry properly to avoid spreading bacteria that can send your guests home with an unwanted side of food poisoning. Thaw safely. A frozen turkey needs about 24 hours to thaw for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight, according to the Department of Agriculture. In a pinch, it can be thawed in a cold water bath or even in the microwave, but it should be cooked immediately if using these methods. And don’t wash the turkey. It’s a bad idea to rinse it down the sink, a practice that can spread potentially dangerous germs like salmonella to nearby areas, said Jennifer Quinlan, a nutrition science professor at Drexel University who has studied consumers’ turkey handling habits. Instead, pat the turkey dry with paper towel and place it in the roasting pan.
COOK WELL, REFRIGERATE QUICKLY
The best way to make sure your turkey is fully cooked, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, is to use a meat thermometer, said Lisa Shelley, who studies food safety at North Carolina State University. Don’t be fooled by golden skin or the color of turkey juice. Once the turkey is served, be sure to refrigerate it and any other leftovers — mashed potatoes, gravy, yams — within two hours. “Really, set a timer when you turn everything off,” Quinlan suggested. “You’ll be surprised how quickly two hours pass.”
And don’t skimp on cleaning. Wash your hands before preparing food and after handling raw poultry. But be sure to consider countertops, cutting boards and any tools that could also be contaminated, Shelley said. Clean with soap and water, then disinfect with bleach. “It’s a two-step process,” she says.
Certain holidays are known for specific injuries and Thanksgiving is no exception, said Dr. Christopher Kang, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Trim carefully. Slicing a turkey is a lot harder than it looks, as evidenced by the turkey day wounds. “Still, with any cutting and carving, we see a lot of hand and finger injuries,” said Kang, an emergency physician in Tacoma, Washington. Make sure the carving knife is sharp and never cuts towards you, always away. Do not put your hand under the blade to grab a slice of meat.
Be careful, the turkey fryer catches fire. Fried turkey may look delicious, but it’s a dangerous dish for home cooks to prepare. Deep fryers can tip over and topple over – and the combination of a frozen or partially thawed turkey and hot oil can create an explosion. Even when that didn’t happen, Kang said he saw many painful burns from hot oil.
AVOIDING THE “TRIPLE-DEMIC”
Thanksgiving gatherings also trigger a spike in other ER visits as generations come together and swap germs. This year, the danger posed by COVID-19 and other viruses, including an early flu season and RSV, respiratory syncytial virus, is an ongoing concern, Kang said. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to certain infections; older people are more sensitive to others. “What age group is not at risk?” Kang said. To reduce the risk of infection and serious illness, make sure everyone who is eligible is up to date on their vaccinations. Ask people who are showing symptoms of illness – even “allergies” or “just a cold” – to stay home. Consider asking guests to take a rapid COVID-19 test before showing up. Make sure your home is well ventilated: Open windows, run a portable air purifier. To protect the most vulnerable customers, consider wearing masks indoors.
BE AWARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Hosting — or joining — a Thanksgiving holiday event after nearly three years of a tumultuous pandemic can be a challenge. It’s important to have realistic expectations and plan ahead to avoid familiar family pitfalls, according to the American Psychological Association. Take time for yourself. Despite the pressure of the holidays, don’t give up on your healthy routine. If you usually exercise, make time for a long walk, APA experts say: “Think about the aspects of your life that bring you joy.” Set limits in advance. If you’re worried about conflict or heated discussions at your holiday table, the APA suggests making sure everyone knows Thanksgiving is a time to focus on “gratitude, appreciation, and all that you love.” have, including each other”.