FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 15, 2012) -- Safety may not be at the forefront of people's minds while shopping for gifts and preparing Family holiday meals, but officials around Fort Rucker remind Soldiers and Families that safely preparing those meals is essential to healthy living and a less stressful holiday.

It is critical for people to be aware of sanitation habits while handling raw food, according to 1st Lt. Christopher Heuer, chief of the environmental health department at Lyster Army Health Clinic.

"Cross contamination is the Centers for Disease Control's number one cause for food-borne illnesses in the U.S. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a great way to kill germs, but it is still important to use soap and water before and after food preparation in order to get rid of any dirt or grease on your hands that can also hold bacteria," he said.

Spreading germs during the holidays isn't the only way people can get sick. Heuer also advises people to properly cook, refrigerate and reheat food.

"Whole poultry should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees prior to serving. You can determine the internal temperature with the use of a cooking thermometer. The most recommended method for thawing food is to submerge the frozen food in clean, potable water under a running faucet. The water temperature should be 70 degrees or below," he said, adding that people can thaw frozen food in a microwave oven only if it will be cooked immediately.

"To ensure your leftovers stay fresh for as long as possible it is important to refrigerate your food to 40 degrees within four hours of serving, and all previously handled food should be re-cooked to 165 degrees or above," he added.

The CDC estimates that each year roughly one in six Americans become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year due to food-borne diseases. The majority of these illnesses can be attributed to poor sanitation, inadequate reheating or failure to properly heat raw or previously handled food, but Heuer said that people can avoid food poisoning by following his safety tips.

"By washing their hands every time they come into contact with food, and ensuring that their food is properly cooked whether its leftovers or straight from the grocery store, people can be sure that what they are eating is safe," he said.

Product safety tips are also a key instrument when it comes to safely preparing a holiday meal.

The Fort Rucker Fire Department does not recommend the use of turkey fryers for cooking and they are not Underwriters Laboratory approved, according to Chad Kilcrese, fire inspector at the Fort Rucker Fire Prevention Office.

"UL considers turkey fryers to be dangerous to use, presenting numerous safety hazards to consumers. John Drengenberg of UL said that the increasing number of fires that results from fryers is not worth the risks," he said.

The many risks that the fryers are subject to include: easily tipping over; oil hitting the burner or flames, causing a fire to engulf the entire unit; partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer causing a spillover effect, which can result in an extensive fire; oil can be easily overheated to the point of combustion; and the lid and handles on the sides of the cooking pot get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.

But if people are determined to use [a turkey fryer], Kilcrease asks them to follow all of the safety precautions and to watch the video on the web site

For those who intend to use a turkey fryer, here are some safety tips:

Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.

To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer and never leave the fryer unattended.

Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.

Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.

The National Turkey Federation recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator about 24 hours for every five pounds in weight.

Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.

For questions concerning fire hazards or turkey fryers, contact the Fort Rucker Fire Prevention Office at 255-9584.