PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Agents with the Illinois Department of Public Health are urging people to be cautious this Thanksgiving to avoid food-borne illnesses.

The IDPH says basic safety steps such as keeping hot foods hot, cold foods cold, and properly thawing frozen turkeys before roasting them, will go a long way to protect friends and family.

But beyond that, the department says that with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses on the uptick, hosts should provide good ventilation for large gatherings.

Added: IDPH Director Sameer Vohra: “As we enjoy food, family, and friends, I want to remind everybody that we can prevent unhappy holiday outcomes by following proven food safety guidelines such as thawing frozen turkeys in the fridge and making sure the turkey and stuffing are thoroughly cooked to a safe temperature of 165° Fahrenheit.”

Dr. Vohra also stressed that hosts can enhance the safety of guests by providing proper indoor ventilation, encouraging good hand hygiene, and reminding guests to cover coughs and sneezes. If someone is feeling symptoms of a respiratory virus, it’s best to get tested and stay home if sick.

The four main steps for food safety are:

  • Clean – Wash your hands with soap and water before, during, and after preparing your food, especially before and after handling turkey.
  • Separate – Raw turkey and its juice can contaminate anything they touch. Be sure to handle your turkey correctly to prevent harmful germs from spreading to other food or your family and friends. Use one cutting board for raw turkey and a separate cutting board for produce, bread, and other foods that won’t be cooked. Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing raw turkey and before you prepare the next item.
  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to check if the turkey and stuffing has reached a safe internal temperature of 165° F.Take the temperature in three places – the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing. For stuffing, make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F.
  • Chill – Do not leave foods at room temperature more than two hours. After you are done eating, divide the remaining food into small containers and either refrigerate or freeze. Leftovers are safe in the refrigerator for up to four days. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving or eating.

An easy rule to remember is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Get familiar with common food preparation mistakes such as thawing food on the counter or peeling fruits without washing them first.