ILLINOIS (WEHT) – With many families planning to gather for Thanksgiving, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is urging Illinoisans to celebrate the holiday safely by protecting vulnerable family members from viruses and to pay close attention to food safety.

Officials say in addition to being fully vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19 and the flu, they encourage the public to get tested before attending holiday gatherings, especially if you’ll be visiting someone at high risk for severe COVID-19; to stay home if you are sick; and practice good hand hygiene. In addition, holiday hosts are urged to ensure gatherings are well-ventilated and to follow food safety guidelines in handling hot and cold foods to prevent food-borne illnesses. The CDC also offers valuable advice on how to safely cook a holiday turkey.

IDPH says 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.

IDPH will be distributing one million at-home antigen tests to 200,000 Illinois families in zip codes outside Chicago and households can find out if they are in an eligible zip code at the Project ACT website.

Officials say free or low cost COVID-19 testing locations are also available throughout the state and can be found on IDHP’s testing locator page. The best way to locate a vaccine provider near you is to visit this website and search for bivalent booster availability.