Westchester County Executive George Latimer is reminding residents to plan ahead for a safe and healthy Thanksgiving celebration.

Latimer said: “As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday we should be reminded of our many blessings – family and friends, good health and happiness. But, it is also important that we celebrate the holiday safely. If you are planning to hit the road to gather with relatives make sure to drive responsibly, and if you have a drink, please do so in moderation. If you are going to play host or hostess on Thursday, make sure to follow the Health Department’s guidelines to cook your Thanksgiving meal properly.”

Whether you take to the road to visit with family and friends, or plan to celebrate at home, it is important to drive, cook and drink responsibly to enjoy a healthy Thanksgiving. Leave early to allow extra time for traffic, follow the Health Department’s food safety advice, and always let moderation be your guide.”

For a healthier holiday, the Health Department recommends residents go for a turkey trot, take a long walk or add some other exercise to their holiday traditions. When preparing the meal, boost flavor with herbs, skip the salt and cut down on the amount of fat and sugar in recipes.

Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler said: “To avoid germs, wash hands thoroughly after exchanging greetings or reading a menu, and before you take that first bite. With viruses circulating and flu season here, good hand hygiene is critical.”

Follow these food safety tips for a fabulous feast:

To thaw a turkey, the USDA recommends placing it in a refrigerator and allowing one day for every four to five pounds of weight. A 16-pound turkey will take four days to thaw. On Thanksgiving, remove your turkey from the refrigerator, but do not wash it as this spreads germs onto kitchen surfaces.

Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times. Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils when handling raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or in a dishwasher. Cook the turkey until it reaches 165 °F, as measured by a food thermometer. Check the turkey’s temperature by inserting the thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

The Health Department also recommends holiday hosts and their helpers follow these seven food safety tips:

  • Wash hands and food-contact surfaces with hot soapy water thoroughly and often.
  • Thaw turkey in a pan in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every five pounds.
  • Keep raw meat and poultry and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Rinse all fruits and vegetables in cool running water and remove surface dirt.
  • Cook turkey and stuffing to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Refrigerate turkey, stuffing and sides within two hours.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least at least 165°F before serving. (Check the temperature with a metal probe thermometer.)

For more food preparation safety tips, go to Westchester County Department of Health website. The USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline can be reached at (1-888) 674-6854.