Tips for Safe Thanksgiving Dinner

About 3,000 people die every year from food-borne illnesses, and more than 100,000 report being sick. That’s the first thing the Erie County Department of Health hammers home during an educational session to prepare food-industry employees to become certified as managers.

First, do no harm.

Food safety certification is one of the first steps to owning my own food truck. Most people think it starts with the recipes, which is a key part of your business plan (and the health department wants to see them, too). But a failed inspection, or, worse yet someone gets sick, and that business is done.

Food safety isn’t glamorous. Much of the conversation is around hand washing and bacteria. There’s a fair amount of discussion around “poo.”  Mainly I’m learning about all the things you don’t see as a customer that can hurt you. Gloves only protect if the hands of the person putting them on are clean, and the person wearing them doesn’t touch anything that can cross-contaminate your food by touching anything like, say, his or her nose or the cash drawer. Hand sanitizer, which our instructor demonstrated using a black light, does very little to clean your hands.

The lesson is that Mom was right. Wash your hands with soap and water. Rinse. Dry using a disposable towel. Repeat frequently.

Time and temperature are also killers. More likely, they are the reason you think you’ve got a 24-hour stomach bug after a potluck. Cooked pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes cannot sit out unrefrigerated. Once you introduce water, or heat in the case of potatoes, you have a ticking bacterial time bomb. They must be maintained at 135 degrees, or, once they dip below that, they need to get down to 41 degrees within 6 hours. And that’s not just in the 41-degree refrigerator after 6 hours. The pasta, rice, beans, and/or potatoes must be 70 degrees within 2 hours and 41 degrees when a thermometer registers in the middle within 4 more.

Homemade Roasted Thanksgiving Day Turkey with all the Sides
Homemade Roasted Thanksgiving Day Turkey with all the Sides, (Thinkstock photo)

So, all you home cooks … with Thanksgiving coming up … the turkey, potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, green beans, et al, cannot be left on the counter in the danger zone (below 135 degrees) for more than 4 hours. After that, into the trash those leftovers must go. And you can’t put the whole kit and kaboodle in the fridge while still hot. That will raise the temp of your fridge, risking the spoilage of everything else in there. Use a cooler to chill first, then refrigerate.

Don’t blame the mayo if your make yourself a turkey sandwich with all the trimmings at midnight and then are hugging the porcelain god the next day. Commercial mayo has a pH outside the danger zone. The most likely culprits are the potatoes, turkey, or stuffing (even if cooked outside the turkey because of the moisture content).

Given all the info flying at us, I decided pizza was what was on the menu for our dinner. Although you can’t leave cut tomatoes out any longer because the acid content has been reduced to account for America’s problem with acid reflux, it isn’t a dish I’m going to have around for 4 hours.

I watched a WQLN-TV show with Lidia Bastianich making pizza and I love her sauce. It’s simple and full of flavor. So I fired up the grill and made the sauce while the Big Green Egg was getting ready.

Here’s my riff on her pizza sauce. 

Print Recipe
Pizza Sauce
Easy to make without added sugar or artificial ingredients. When so few ingredients need to star, the sauce needs to shine.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
  1. Crush the tomatoes with your hands into a bowl. Pour crushed tomatoes into a strainer over another bowl and drain off extra liquid. You can use the liquid for another recipe or discard.
  2. Place drained crush tomatoes in bowl and add remaining ingredients. Stir. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes (while grill is getting hot).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Lidia Bastianich

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