Christmas is almost here and lots of folks are planning on cooking up a huge holiday feast. Grayson County employees charged with making sure the food that is served at local eateries is safe also want to help local cooks prepare safe food.

Sanitarian Marshal Ward said the place to start is with a clean kitchen and a good read.

“Make sure and read the label to find out if it is a fresh turkey or frozen one,” he said.

That will tell you if you need thawing time our not. Thawing correctly, he said, is important because that is the stage were bacteria can start to creep into the process. Thawing in the fridge is the best way to go, he said, and the bird should be placed low in the fridge to help prevent cross contamination.

Once the bird is ready to go, he said you should resist the temptation to give it a good wash. That only spreads germs around the kitchen. Once you have prepared the turkey, or any other poultry, for cooking, go ahead and place it in the preheated oven. Ward said now is a good time to go ahead and clean any surface that the raw bird might have come into contact with while you were prepping.

Once everything is nice and clean, you will want to concentrate on making sure that the bird is cooked completely before it is served. Generally, he said, there are instructions on the packaging that will describe how long the bird should be cooked. The goal however, he said, is for a bird to be cooked until it reaches an internal minimum temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. The temperature should be checked on the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast.

Some birds come with a “pop up” thermometer, but Ward said it is still a good idea to check those with a meat thermometer too.

Once the bird is cooked, he said, it is time to turn one’s attention to making sure that everything is served and put away within about a two hour time span.

When putting away leftovers, he said, it is best to slice up any big portions of meat into smaller ones so that they cool evenly. He suggested using a thermometer in the fridge to make sure that it is properly cooling and to remember that it will be warmest by the door, so things that need to be kept the coolest should be furthest from the door.

Leftovers, he said, should be placed in shallow pans or containers so that they cool properly. He also said leftovers should be used within a two to three day timetable. He said it is important not to overwhelm the fridge with so much food that it can’t all be kept properly cool. He suggested sending some leftovers home with guests or putting them in the freezer if there is a worry about that.

For more information on keeping the holiday spread safe for consumption, Ward suggested people see for tips.