Thanksgiving Special: Safe Holiday Cooking

Richmond, VA (NBC 12) - If you're cooking this Thanksgiving, we're on your side with some important tips for keeping your holiday meal a safe and enjoyable one.

Improper storing, cooking and serving can be a recipe for disaster in the kitchen.  That's why it's important to take the right precautions.

Like many of us, Nicky Hansen is gearing up for a big Thanksgiving.  "It's just a big family gathering, eating lots of food. I'm all about eating," she says.

But before you can eat, most of us will have to cook.  And that's where mistakes can get costly.  Nicky says, "I don't want to make anybody sick in my family.  I know how easy it is."

Gary Hagy, of the Health Department's Division of Food and Environmental Services, says whether working in a restaurant or a home kitchen, the same rules apply.

"The bacteria, they don't care if they're in a restaurant or your home.  They're the same bacteria," says Hagy.

When handling a turkey, or any raw meat, Hagy's first tip is to make sure you wash your hands before touching anything else.  He says, "You wash your hands thoroughly to wash the bacteria off your hands so you don't cross contaminate that salmonella bacteria from the turkey to the salad or the vegetables that you're working with."

Also keep in mind that any knives, cutting boards or utensils exposed to raw meat must also be thoroughly sanitized.

Another Thanksgiving danger-zone:  the lengthly meal.  Hagy says food left sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours shouldn't be eaten.

"The food should be handled just as we would in a restaurant, quickly stored back in refrigeration and held at proper temperatures," says Hagy.

And speaking of proper temperatures, Hagy says leftovers are only good for a maximum of 3 or 4 days and must be reheated properly.  To kill dangerous bacteria, Hagy recommends only heating what you're actually going to eat.  "That way, you've got a smaller quantity of food, it's easier to hit that 165 degrees to get that kill step," he says.

Some simple steps before you feast that could keep your turkey dinner from becoming a turkey-day disaster.

"Temperature control, hand hygiene, don't cross contaminate, cook to the proper temperature, hold to the proper temperature.  You do those things, you'll be fine," says Hagy.