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Tips for Safe, Healthy Holiday Cooking

Posted on November 12, 2014

During the holidays, food often takes center stage. Large meals and gatherings, however, can present challenges to colon cancer patients undergoing treatment. First of all, safe food handling is important during this time of year, simply because we’re often eating food prepared by friends are family members and also consuming more leftovers from holiday gatherings. Because cancer patients can be at an increased risk for a suppressed immune system, it is even more important to be aware that your holiday food is handled safely.

Colon cancer survivors also face the challenge of trying to eat more healthfully. During this holiday, strive to focus on recipes that are plant-based and lower in added sodium and sugar. Choosing poultry as a substitute for red meat is also a good choice for those with a history of colon cancer along with trying to reduce risk of a secondary cancer.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure safe food handling during the Thanksgiving holiday:

Safely Thawing Your Turkey:

  • Be sure to thaw the turkey completely. A frozen or partially frozen turkey will take longer to cook than a fully thawed bird and may leave areas that are not fully cooked.
  • Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 lbs of the turkey. Therefore, a 20 lb turkey could take at least 4 days to thaw safely.
  • Turkey can be thawed in cold water at about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Wrap turkey well before submerging in water. The water should also be changed every 30 minutes until the thawing process is complete. Begin cooking the turkey as soon as it is fully thawed. A 20 lb turkey will take approximately 10 hours.

Stuffing the Turkey:

  • The safest method to cook stuffing is separate from the turkey in a casserole dish at 325ºF, allowing it to reach an internal temperature of 165ºF.
  • Do not buy fresh, pre-stuffed turkeys. There is a higher risk that harmful bacteria can grow if they are not handled correctly.

Cooking the Turkey: 

  • The oven temperature should be set no lower than 325ºF for a whole turkey.
  • The turkey is done when it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165ºF (innermost part of thigh and wing and thickest part of breast). It is recommended to check temperature even if your turkey comes with a pop-up indicator.

Thanksgiving Leftovers:

  • Discard any leftovers that have been left on the counter for more than two hours.
  • Large amount of leftovers should be refrigerated in shallow containers to help them cool quickly.
  • Use refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days and frozen leftovers within 2-6 months.
  • Reheat turkey to an internal temperature of 165ºF keeping it moist by added broth, water or gravy.

Share these tips with family members and friends to ensure safe food handling for all your meals. Want to learn more? Check out this information on safe food handling, read more about lowering the calories in your favorite holiday recipes and enjoy these unique plant-based recipes this holiday: sweet potato recipes, cranberry recipes, spinach recipe and pumpkin recipes. Have a happy (and HEALTHY) Thanksgiving! 

Angela Hummel, specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal.

Angela Hummel, specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal.

This post is written by Angela Hummel, registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal. She is passionate about helping people meet the many challenges of managing health throughout cancer treatment. Angela studied nutrition at Central Michigan University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, dietetic internship and master’s degree. She has worked in the inpatient, outpatient and community oncology settings for many years. Currently, she is part of the clinical team at Meals to Heal where she counsels people on oncology nutrition and contributes to clinical website and other Meals to Heal content. 

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help! 

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