It is a tradition for our Thanksgiving table to feature the star of the day – turkey.
But did you know that this meal can put you and your family at risk for food poisoning?
Detective Foodsafe® did and wants to help you avoid making your holiday guests sick.
Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and water regularly, always after handling raw poultry and its juices. It is important to also wash all food surfaces, cabinet handles and sink faucet when working with raw poultry to prevent cross contamination from juices.
Detective Foodsafe can’t say this enough to help us all avoid a food safety nightmare!
Wash your hands!
Buying and Storing the Bird
Finding just the right turkey to feed the family and have some leftovers to enjoy in the days after the holiday will take a little planning including how to practice with food safety in mind. We don’t want to buy more than we can store and cook safely, not to mention waste later.
Whether we want fresh or frozen poultry, the rule of thumb is one pound per person you plan to feed. Add for leftovers.
Fresh turkeys should be purchased only 1-2 days before cooking, while frozen can be purchased anytime and kept frozen until ready to thaw. A frozen turkey can last in the deep freeze for up to a year.
Detective Foodsafe warns not to buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys, as bacteria can grow in the moisture, especially if not handled properly. We can purchase pre-stuffed frozen birds if we wish to have someone else make the stuffing, but ensure it has the USDA inspection seal for food safety. If you use pre-stuffed frozen turkey, allow 1¼ pounds per person.
While you store your turkey in the refrigerator for fresh varieties or while thawing, always put on a pan or tray to catch the juices and avoid cross contamination of ready to eat foods.
It is very important that you fight the urge to thaw your turkey on the counter for even a little time during the thawing process.
According to Detective Foodsafe, it is best to plan ahead to allow plenty of time to thaw thoroughly in your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower. You should allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. If your refrigerator is full, it may take longer as the air can’t move over the bird as easily.
It is a good idea to reduce the amount of items in your refrigerator while the turkey thaws to avoid temperature loss due to overfilling the refrigerator or any temperature fluctuations leading to bacterial growth.
Always keep the turkey in its original wrapper the entire time you thaw it. Once properly thawed, it can remain in the refrigerator up to 2 days before cooking.
You can thaw your turkey in other ways, including under cold water or in the microwave. If you place it in the microwave to thaw, remove the wrapper and cook it immediately after thawing.
You can also cook a turkey directly from a frozen state but it will take 50% longer to cook. Planning ahead will help you avoid the growth of bacteria which could cause food poisoning.
Cooking the Bird
Detective Foodsafe has seen many people wash their poultry in the sink, but she warns that this can spread bacteria to other parts of the kitchen. A turkey that is fully heated to the appropriate internal temperature will destroy bacteria, therefore washing it is an unnecessary risk to your health and that of your family.
Once you take the bird out of the wrapper, carefully remove the giblets and neck bone from the cavity. Use long tongs or serving fork to prevent contact and cross contamination with bacteria in the bird. If you plan to cook these, keep them refrigerated once removed until ready to use.
Using a shallow roasting pan placed in the oven at a minimum temperature of 325 degrees F for the appropriate time based on its weight. Follow package directions for safe cooking.
Most of us were taught to spoon stuffing into the bird’s cavity, but Detective Foodsafe and other experts now recommend cooking stuffing in a separate dish. Stuffing should also reach a safe internal temperature, similar to the whole bird, of 165 degrees F.
If you do plan to stuff your turkey, do not do this ahead of time. Instead, loosely stuff right before cooking. Check the temperature of the stuffing as well as the bird to ensure it is cooked all the way through.
Add about 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan. At the beginning of the cooking time, cover with roaster pan lid or tent with aluminum foil to keep the bird moist and allow maximum heat circulation to the bird.
Detective Foodsafe knows that the pop-up temperature indicator on most turkeys is a real convenience for many people and generally trustworthy to accurately indicate doneness. However, she also recommends testing the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer to determine if it has reached 165 degrees F. Also check the innermost part of the thigh and wing. You can cook it to temperatures above 165 degrees if desired.
For best results, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before slicing and removing the stuffing. Remove all the stuffing at one time, don’t leave any inside for later.
Leftovers are the Best Part
Enjoying leftover turkey and stuffing, making sandwiches, or using it to create new dishes is the gift of the holidays that keeps giving.
Detective Foodsafe is a fan of the turkey, stuffing, cranberry on pumpernickel sandwich that comes the day after Thanksgiving.
But be safe when storing leftovers so they don’t harm you. Always store within 2 hours or, if the temperature where you are is over 90 degrees F, store within 1 hour.
The leftovers will cool more quickly when stored in smaller portions in shallow containers.
Leftovers should be used within 3-4 days. If you don’t think you can eat it all up by then, freeze it for up to 6 months. Detective Foodsafe likes to store leftovers in ready-to-go meal portions for a quick weekday meal.
When reheating leftovers, be sure to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, whether you cook it in the conventional oven or microwave.
Side Dish Safety
What is a turkey dinner without traditional side dishes such as sweet potatoes, green beans, Brussel sprouts, or other family favorites?
Detective Foodsafe wants to remind us that safe food handling is as important with these items as it is when handling the star of the show.
- Be sure to wash your hands before preparing foods.
- Keep food surfaces clean.
- Avoid cross contamination by using separate cutting boards for raw and ready to eat foods.
- Store all leftovers promptly, within 2 hours.
- Use a food thermometer to check temperatures
- Read and follow all food package instructions
- When transporting food, take precautions to keep at proper temperature (hot or cold) and reheat hot foods to 165 degrees F before serving and hold at 140 degrees F.
- Keep desserts containing egg and dairy in the refrigerator, not on display for the guests
- Keep refrigerator and freezer at proper temperatures using an internal thermometer to check regularly
- If needed, remove nonperishable foods from refrigerator to have enough room for adequate air flow while storing holiday foods especially a large turkey
- Teach your kids to practice food safety in the kitchen
No one wants to be a statistic this holiday season. Food poisoning affects millions each year but you can prevent it by taking some precautions in your kitchen.
Your family will be thankful for your thoughtfulness!