Five food safety tips for the holidays

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) With Thanksgiving just two days away, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued warnings about handling and storing holiday meals.

Some of the tips are regarding things we may be doing thinking that it will help keep us from getting sick.

The first tip: Don't wash your turkey. The department says washing raw meat can cause the bacteria to spread up to three feet away. Cooking your meat to the correct temperature will kill any harmful bacteria.

Second: Use the fridge, cold-water, or microwave to thaw your frozen turkey. USDA says thawing your food in the refrigerator is the safest method because it will thaw at a consistent, safe temperature. If you do that, it will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of your turkey. If you want to thaw in cold water, keep the bird in its original wrapper, submerge it in cold water, and change the water every 30 minutes.

If you want to thaw your turkey in the microwave, check your microwave owner's manual.

Third: Use a meat thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. All three places should hit 165 degrees.

Don't rely on "the juices run clear," because the turkey "juice" wont' always be clear at that temperature, and when they do, your bird may be overcooked.

Fourth: Don't store food outside. This is a mistake many Alaskans may make; it's cold outside, and the fridge and freezer are full. USDA warns that if animals get into the food, they could eat it, or just contaminate it. And if temperatures aren't quite cold enough, the sun can still heat a plastic food container to warmer than the 40 degree "danger zone."

The USDA recommends storing food that won't fit in a cooler with ice.

Fifth: Leftovers are good for up to four days. That stat counts for leftovers put in the fridge quickly. The Department of Agriculture suggests cutting the turkey off the bone and putting it in the refrigerator within two hours if possible.

If you don't think you'll eat all of your leftovers in four days, put them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze them. Turkey should be eaten within four months out of the freezer. It will still be safe, but may taste dry.

The USDA has a turkey basics page with more information about food safety. Click here to visit that page.