No one wants to end a holiday with food poisoning. But it could happen if you don't follow a few common sense safety rules when preparing your Thanksgiving dinner. Joining us this morning is Londa Nwadike, a University of Vermont Extension food safety specialist, with some tips on how to make sure your holiday meal is safe.
FRESH TURKEY: Be sure to buy your turkey from a reputable source. Order ahead, and pick up one or two days before cooking. Do not buy a pre-stuffed fresh bird or hold any raw, fresh bird more than two days without cooking.
THAWING: Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. Turkeys also may be thawed under cold running water or in a sink of cold water, provided the product wrapping is intact and you remember to change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes thawing time per pound.
COOKING: Turkey--fresh or thawed but NOT frozen--should be cooked in a preheated oven set at 325 degrees F. When cooking an unstuffed bird, plan on a range of approximately three hours for an eight to 12-pound turkey to approximately five hours for a 20 to 24-pound turkey. For a stuffed bird, plan on approximately 3 1/2 hours for an eight to 12- pound turkey up to 5 1/4 hours for a 20 to 24-pound turkey.
To determine if the turkey is safely cooked, use a food thermometer to ensure that the entire bird has reached a minimum temperature of at least 165 degrees F. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The stuffing should also reach at least 165 degrees F.
Never use a long, slow-cooking temperature (250 degrees F) as this may not prove hot enough to destroy bacteria. You also should never partially cook a turkey and finish cooking it later. Bacterial pathogens grow best between 40 and 140 degrees F. Conditions for this are ideal in a partially cooked bird.
STUFFING: If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely and ensure that the stuffing is moist. Stuff the turkey just prior to cooking, or cook the stuffing separately.
SERVING: Serve turkey immediately after cooking. Never leave food unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
LEFTOVERS: Refrigerate the stuffing and turkey (with the meat removed from the carcass) separately in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days, gravy and stuffing only one or two days. Turkey may be frozen for up to one month without loss of flavor or safety. Reheat leftovers until 165 degrees
For answers to food safety questions or help in preparing your Thanksgiving turkey, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at (888) 674-6854. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
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