How to Prep Your Thanksgiving Meal Safely

What Most Grocery Stores Won't Tell You

Aside from spending quality time with the family, food is undeniably one of the most important parts of Thanksgiving.

Before you get started on that holiday feast, the inevitable trip to the grocery store is sometimes a pricey and stressful experience. If you're not shopping safely, you could even be bringing home foods with salmonella, high levels of mercury and other scary grocery pathogens.

"Three-thousand people die every single year from preventable foodborne illnesses," Sarah Klein, senior staff attorney for food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told ABC News' "20/20."

Luckily, Klein shared her tips for making grocery shopping for Thanksgiving a safer experience. Check out her advice below.

1.
Where You Shop and How You Shop Matters

"When selecting a grocery store, you want to look for the same things that you'd look for in a restaurant," Klein said. "You want things to be clean."

While you can't tell how they're storing things in the back, a good grocery store shouldn't have too many fruit flies in the produce section or a lot of food on the ground. "They're cleaning up fairly regularly and restocking on a regular basis," Klein said.

Once you get to the store, be wary of grocery carts as they're infested with whatever bacteria that anybody who's passed through the grocery store was handling. Take advantage of cart liners, especially for small children.

2.
You Might Want to Stay Clear of the Prepared Foods Section Altogether

If you're running low on time, picking up a prepared dish for Thanksgiving might seem like a great idea.

However, the prepared foods section of the grocery store is a risky area for consumers, according to Klein. You don't know how long the food was sitting in the grocery store before it was cooked for the prepared foods section.

Also, once food is cooked, if it's not handled properly, bacteria can regenerate. "So you can have food that's sitting on a hot bar for hours upon hours, even though it's kept warm, the bacteria are starting to multiply," Klein said.

3.
If You Buy Rice, Make Sure You Wash It

Are you going with rice instead of mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving dinner this year? It's a great healthy choice, but Klein warns consumers that she is seeing reports of more arsenic in rice.

"Brown rice, unfortunately, is soaking up more of that, because of the bran," Klein said. "So although it's healthier for you, it's also containing more arsenic, which is unpleasant and unhealthy."

You can wash some of this arsenic off though by rinsing your rice before you cook it. Then, boil it in extra water, pour the water off, and you will have gotten rid of a good amount of that arsenic.

4.
Never Wash Your Thanksgiving Turkey, Just Cook It

Although it may seem logical, don't rinse your Thanksgiving turkey or any meats ever before cooking.

"Because all you're doing is aerosolizing bacteria all over your kitchen," Klein explained. "...all those little water droplets are now carrying bacteria all over your kitchen."

Instead, Klein said to cook meats thoroughly, and you won't need to rinse them.

Also, if you choose to stuff your turkey, make sure you take out the stuffing and cook it thoroughly before eating. Juices that are contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter from the turkey can become trapped in the stuffing.

5.
Pick the Right Fish

If some of your Thanksgiving guests prefer fish, make sure you purchase the right ones at the grocery store. Seafood is fairly healthy, but there are things to watch out for.

"Fish that are large and that eat other fish throughout their lifetime can accumulate toxins and other kinds of heavy metals like methylmercury throughout their lifetime," Klein said.

"That's why, for example, a large tuna or swordfish, those are things that contain a high level of mercury."

6.
Never Buy: Raw Milk, Raw Sprouts, or Raw Oysters from the Gulf of Mexico

Does your Thanksgiving menu include raw milk, raw sprouts, or raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico? You might want to rethink those items, because Klein said these are some of the most unsafe foods to buy.

"There is really nothing that can make raw unpasteurized milk safe enough for consumers to drink," Klein warned.

Also, raw sprouts, including beans, alfalfa, and mung sprouts, should never be bought unless you intend to cook them very well through.

As for oysters, stick to those from the Pacific Northwest or the New England waters. The water in the Gulf of Mexico is very warm, so oysters from this area carry an extremely dangerous pathogen, according to Klein. "They can be pasteurized, but the oyster industry in the South doesn't want to do it," Klein said.

7.
Join Your Grocery Store's Loyalty Program

Aside from notifying you of sales and specials on their items, a lot of grocery stores, who have loyalty card programs, will let you know about products that have been recalled.

For more information on food safety, visit the Partnership for Food and Safety Education, http://www.holidayfoodsafety.org

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