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It’s Turkey Time! 5 Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

Turkey Tips .

From turkey to trimmings, Thanksgiving is a time to indulge in holiday favorites with family and friends. However, merriment can change quickly to misery if your favorite holiday foods make your or others at your gathering ill. As you prepare for the big feast, these are five Thanksgiving food safety tips to keep in mind:

1. Thawing the turkey.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), turkeys can be safely thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water or in a microwave oven:

  • To thaw the turkey in a refrigerator, the USDA recommends allowing approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and placed in a pan or tray to catch any juices that may leak.
  • To thaw a turkey faster, you may wish to use cold water. Wrap the turkey securely and ensure no water can leak through the wrapping. Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes. The USDA advises allowing approximately 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound. Cook immediately upon thawing.
  • To thaw your turkey in a microwave oven, follow your microwave’s instruction manual and then cook the turkey immediately; do not refreeze or refrigerate.

If you purchase a pre-stuffed frozen turkey, do not thaw prior to cooking according to the USDA. Cook directly from the frozen state and follow package directions for proper handling.

2. Frying the turkey. Fried turkey may be a favorite Thanksgiving tradition for some families, but frying a turkey can also result in a fire. These are some steps that can help reduce the risk of an accident:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from the house at all times.
  • Never leave the turkey fryer unattended, and do not allow children or pets near the fryer.
  • Set the turkey fryer on even, flat ground and keep the oil level even and steady at all times.
  • Ensure the turkey is completely thawed and dry prior to beginning. Extra water can cause a turkey fryer to bubble over. Spilled oil may start a fire.
  • Use caution when operating the fryer. The lid and pot can become very hot, increasing the risk for an accidental burn.
  • Have a multi-purpose, dry-powder fire extinguisher ready at all times in the event the oil ignites.

3. Testing for doneness with a food thermometer. Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. The CDC recommends using a food thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked to the safe internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. To test the turkey for doneness, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Even if the turkey comes with a “pop up” thermometer indicator, the internal temperature should still be checked with a proper food thermometer.

4. Food handling safety. To reduce the risk for cross-contamination when preparing additional foods, the FDA advises home cooks to keep raw poultry and meat juices away from vegetables, fruits and other foods that may be consumed raw. Keep separate when grocery shopping, storing items in the fridge, and preparing meals. Disinfect all kitchen surfaces regularly and wash hands frequently with hot soap and water.

5. Safe stuffing preparation. Whether the stuffing is cooked inside or outside a turkey, stuffing should be cooked to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If the stuffing does not reach 165 F, bacteria may survive, increasing the risk for illness. The FDA also recommends cooking stuffing in a casserole dish, rather than inside a turkey. If you will be cooking stuffing inside your turkey, however, consider the following:

  • Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
  • Bake the turkey immediately upon stuffing.
  • Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.

Additional information on turkey and stuffing safety is available through the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety & Inspection Service website.


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