PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As a culinary centerpiece, the turkey will undoubtedly be the highlight of many holiday meals this Thanksgiving. But when it comes to preparing poultry, health officials say there are safe and unsafe approaches.

“Food is an integral part of how many people celebrate,” said Lauren Jenks, Assistant Secretary for Environmental Public Health in Washington state. “Unfortunately, every year thousands of people around the country suffer from foodborne illnesses during the holiday season as a result of improperly cooked or stored food. This year, we want to minimize that as much as possible.”

According to CDC data, each year an estimated 8 million people get sick from foodborne illness, and 128,000 are hospitalized.

To counteract those statistics and help families celebrate safely, the Washington State Department of Health has released the following food safety tips to ensure food served this holiday is well-prepared … instead of potentially poisonous.

  • Thaw turkey safely – Turkeys can be responsibly thawed in a refrigerator or a sink filled with cool water (water must be changed every 30 minutes). Never thaw a turkey by leaving it out in room temperature.
  • Keep raw foods separated – This is especially crucial for raw meats and seafood. Keep all raw meat in sealed containers to avoid cross contamination.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold – Bacteria can grow quickly if food temperatures are in the “danger zone,” between 40°F and 140°F. To avoid spreading germs, it is important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold when prepping meals.
  • Cook foods thoroughly Undercooked chicken, turkey, seafood, and eggs can cause foodborne illness. To make sure these items are cooked to a safe internal temperature use a food thermometer.
  • Do not eat raw dough – Refrain from ingesting raw dough or batter that include eggs and flour. These mixtures may contain harmful E.coli and Salmonella germs.
  • Wash hands and disinfect cooking areas – To avoid spreading germs, wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before, during, and after prepping food. Be sure to also wash hands after handling uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, flour, or eggs, to prevent potential food poisoning. Disinfect all cooking surfaces after preparing a meal.
  • Leftover safety – Leftovers should be refrigerated at 40°F or colder within two hours of being served. Divide large portions of meat into smaller cuts for quicker refrigeration. Leftovers should be reheated to 165°F or hotter before reserving. Leftovers can be kept safely in the refrigerator for up to four days.