Stay save during the holidays this year by following these tips to safely prepare your holiday meal. Handling poultry (chickens and turkey) incorrectly and undercooking it are the most common problems that lead to foodborne disease outbreaks linked to poultry.
The first step is to thaw your turkey safely. Many family gatherings may be smaller this year so the turkey may be smaller also. If you have a 12- to 16-pound turkey it will need to thaw for a full week in the refrigerator. If you are working with a smaller turkey for a small gathering move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the weekend before Thanksgiving. If the turkey did not get taken out of the freezer early another option is to thaw it in a sink of cold water but the water must be changed every 30 minutes and the plastic bag must be leakproof so no bacteria is allowed in. A third option for a small turkey is to thaw the turkey in the microwave.
Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
Secondly, when handling the raw turkey remember that it can contaminate anything that it touches with harmful bacteria. Wash your hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling turkey. DO NOT wash the raw turkey! Turkey juices can spread in the kitchen and contaminate the countertop and other surfaces. Never place cooked foods or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board or other surface that has been in contact with raw turkey. Wash all cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing the turkey and before you prepare the next item.
The third step to a safe turkey dinner is to set the oven to at least 325 degrees. It is not a safe option to place it in the oven overnight at a low temperature. Place the completely thawed turkey in a pan that is 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey but in all cases use a food thermometer to ensure that the turkey reaches a temperature of 165 degrees. Place the food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest part of the breast or thigh. Even if your turkey has a pop-up indicator, it is best to test the temperature with a food thermometer. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
The fourth step to a food safe holiday is to refrigerate leftovers at 40 degrees or colder as soon as possible and within 2 hours of the food being prepared to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide the big cuts of meat into smaller quantities for refrigeration so it can cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F before serving it again.
For more information, refer to “Let’s Talk Turkey” found at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Lets_Talk_Turkey.pdf. Don’t forget to wash hands often, social distance and keep those holiday gatherings small. Have a safe holiday week!