With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s that time of year to start planning a big meal for the family and of course, cooking a giant turkey. However, it’s important to know the proper way to prepare, cook, and save leftover turkey to keep your friends and family from getting sick.
Janice Hall, a food safety specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, explained the importance of actually not washing turkey before you start cooking.
“USDA does not recommend washing turkeys before cooking,” Hall said. “They have already gone through a thorough process of cleaning before packaging. Washing your turkey will only increase the risk of bacteria spreading over the sink and other surfaces in the kitchen. This, in turn, will increase your risk of a foodborne illness (food poisoning) occurring.”
Turkey will normally keep below 40F for a minimum of three days, but you should allow at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey that needs to be thawed.
“A 15 pounds turkey should be allowed at least three days to thaw. Keeping your turkey in its original wrapping, thaw turkey at refrigerator temperatures below 40F,” Hall said. “Place turkey in a pan or separate container to prevent cross contamination of blood and other contaminants from getting on other foods in the refrigerator, especially the ready to eat – no cook foods.”
Making sure the turkey is just right for that Thanksgiving meal can be stressful. Overcooked may taste bad, but undercooked can lead to sickness.
“USDA recommends that all poultry, including turkeys, be cooked at least to a minimum internal temperature of 165F,” Hall said. “Make sure the oven is set NO LESS THAN 325F. Use a thermometer to ensure the turkey has been cooked to the correct temperature. Some turkeys have pop up thermometers. Those can also be used as indicator, but should be used as a secondary to a meat thermometer.”
Aside from cooking a turkey, some families enjoy even stuffing the turkey if they’re up for the extra effort. On the positive side, the ingredients for stuffing can be prepared ahead of time.
According to the USDA, you should “Keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Chill all of the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.),” Hall said, using information from Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.”
Besides the actual Thanksgiving meal itself, we all look forward to eating the leftover turkey, along with all the side dishes, for the next several days.
“We recommend keeping leftovers for 3-4 days,” Hall said. If you see where all the turkey will not be eaten, freeze it for 2-6 months for best quality.”
Be sure to keep these tips in mind over the next week to ensure a quality, sickness-free, Thanksgiving turkey meal.
Image source: Huffington Post