As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, the Arkansas Department of Health encourages everyone to take simple steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure food safety as people prepare a meal for themselves, their families and their friends.

Protection against COVID-19

Get Vaccinated. All Arkansans ages 5 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Booster shots are recommended for people ages 18 and older who received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at least two months ago or who received their Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna primary series at least six months ago

Wear a mask when appropriate. Masks are recommended if you are not fully vaccinated, in a community with a high number of COVID-19 cases, or in crowded spaces. You might also choose to wear a mask as added protection if you plan to be around someone who has a weakened immune system, is at an increased risk of severe disease, or is unvaccinated.

Avoid gatherings if sick. If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host, or attend a gathering. Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Safety tips for holiday meal preparations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends taking four steps for a food-safe Thanksgiving feast:

Step One: Clean. Start the meal preparation with clean hands and utensils. You should always wash your hands and utensils after handling raw meat and poultry as well. Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry products, can survive on countertops and other kitchen surfaces from four to up to 32 hours, so it is important to keep surfaces cleaned and sanitized.

Step Two: Separate. Keep any raw meat or poultry products away from produce and cooked foods. The bacteria on raw meat and poultry products can contaminate your ready-to-eat food and make you sick. Prepare your other food before handling raw meat or poultry. If that is not possible, then ensure you’ve properly cleaned and sanitized hands, utensils, and surfaces.

Do not wash or rinse raw turkey. USDA research found one in four people who wash, or rinse poultry cross-contaminate other food items being prepared with germs from poultry. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.

Step Three: Cook. Make sure your turkey is fully cooked all the way through. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that your turkey has reached the safe minimum internal temperature. Turkey is safe to eat when it has reached an internal temperature of 165°F in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

Step Four: Chill. When cooked food is out at room temperature, it only has two hours before it becomes unsafe. Serve small portions of a large dish and keep the remainder of the dish warm in the oven or cold in the fridge. When putting leftovers in the fridge, break up larger items and dish into smaller portions to help them cool faster and more efficiently. Freeze or consume within four days. This means the Monday after Thanksgiving is the last day you can safely eat leftovers. If you want to keep leftovers longer, freeze them within that four-day period to enjoy later. Frozen food stays safe indefinitely, though the quality may decrease over time. Frozen leftovers stored in the freezer will be of the best quality if consumed within six months of freezing. Harmful bacteria that may make you sick cannot be smelled or tasted; therefore, always reheat food thoroughly to a temperature of 165°F or until hot and steaming.

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