TAMPA BAY - As you rinse off your turkey, dice your veggies, sauté the mushrooms, and season the meat, the focus will be on that delicious Thanksgiving meal. But how clean is your kitchen? And could that holiday dish cause a food-borne illness?
Chef Clyde Tanner is the Director for the Culinary School at the Art Institute of Tampa. He's trained in proper food safety, so ABC Action News anchor Wendy Ryan invited him into her home to see if her kitchen is sanitary enough to serve a safe Thanksgiving meal.
Chef Tanner immediately found cross contamination issues in Ryan's refrigerator that could make someone sick. He pulled out Ryan's uncovered baby yogurt container and plate of sliced fruit exposed to contamination.
"Somebody's little snacks? They're nice and open. Although the refrigerator is cold and it slows down bacteria growth, it's still a risk of re-infecting somebody," Chef Tanner said.
Ryan also failed with critical violations in how she stored other food. Raw product should be placed on the bottom of the fridge.
"If we look, Wendy, where do you have your eggs? Right on top! This is a cross-contamination risk," Chef Tanner noted.
And there were even more critical violations.
"You have fresh herbs next to cooked products. This is also a contamination risk. Salmonella is actually prevalent inside vegetables," Chef Tanner added.
But cross-contamination wasn't Ryan's only worry.
Frank Curto, the Director of Quality Assurance at GA Food Service used an ATP swab machine to measure the bacterial levels of Ryan's kitchen surfaces.
"What's a good level?" Ryan asked.
"Anything below 30 would be considered acceptable, anything above 30 would be considered dirty and should be re-cleaned," Frank said.
Ryan's sink was the first to fail the test with a score of 54.
But she thought her soap dispenser sponge, used to clean dirty dishes, would surely be cleaner, right?
As Ryan anxiously waited for the ATP machine to do it's work, she grew antsy.
"I'm a little nervous," Ryan stated.
"You should be," Frank joked.
The number on the machine was off the charts!
"Oh wow!" said Ryan. "707! 707? So this is like cleaning with the dirt on the floor?"
"Yeah, this is the very tool you're using to clean and render your utensils clean, but it can potentially be cross-contaminating," Frank answered.
Frank then put Ryan's refrigerator door handle under the microscope, and it did not pass the test either.
"Oh, that's not good! 73? That's way over the safe level," Ryan said in disgust.
"That would be twice the safe level," Frank commented.
And Ryan's water filter handle didn't fare much better. It scored 93, which is well above the maximum of 30.
"It does give you the indication that it's not as clean as it could be," Frank said.
Chef Tanner says the biggest mistake families make on Thanksgiving day? They leave food out for hours, as they watch all those football games.
"Especially here in Florida, it might be a warm turkey day. And just within two hours, that bacteria will have exponentially grown over and over and over again," Chef Tanner said.
And Frank's advice? Sanitize really well, especially after that holiday meal.
"When you're talking about microbiology and microbes, small amounts can cause big problems. So again, you can never be too clean," Frank reiterated.
Additional Food safety tips from Frank Curto and Chef Clyde Tanner:
1. Thanksgiving turkey - Use a meat thermometer and cook turkey to 165 degrees. A food thermometer is going to take the guessing out of it, and it will allow you to kill all of the bacteria and help not over cook the food as well. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the muscle away from the bone.
2. Stuffing - it's recommended not to stuff a turkey but cook the stuffing separately. It should also reach 165 degrees.
3. Eat leftovers within 3-4 days and reheat leftovers to 165 before eating. If you freeze leftovers, use them within two to six months.
4. Items need to be cooled below 40 degrees as quickly as possible before storing.
5. Always wash hands, utensils, surfaces and anything else that comes into contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.
6. If you've purchased a frozen turkey: thaw the bird adequately before cooking. There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.
In the refrigerator: (40 degrees Fahrenheit or below): Allow approximately 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird. .
In cold water: Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. A 12- to 16- pound turkey will take about six to eight hours and a 16- to 20-pound bird needs eight to 10 hours. Seal the turkey securely in plastic to make sure no water leaks in and use only cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
In the microwave: Remove all outside wrapping from the turkey, including
the wire that holds the legs together. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing and do not refreeze or refrigerate a raw turkey after thawing in the microwave.
Warning: Never defrost a turkey on the countertop, in the sink, under hot water, or in the oven. The bacteria in raw turkey grows very rapidly between the temperatures of 40 and 140 Fahrenheit (F), so thawing at room temperature is a guaranteed risk.
7. Leftovers: You don't want to have perishable foods out on the counter top or table for over two hours as bacteria can grow, which you can't see, smell, or taste.
8. Keep raw and cooked/ready to eat foods (foods that will not receive cooking to destroy bacteria) separate with adequate space/care to prevent cross contamination.
Other food safety tips:
The Center For Science in the Public Interest's simple formula:
2 hours/ 2 inches/ 4 days
2 hours: All left-overs need to be in the refrigerator within two hours.
2 inches: Don't over-load food containers. Fill them only to a depth of two-inches, which will allow rapid chilling of the contents.
4 days: Eat refrigerated left-overs within three to four days, or freeze if keeping longer.