To ensure that foodborne illness isn’t a guest at your holiday table, follow these tips from USDA when buying and preparing your turkey.
When buying a turkey, allow one pound per person. If you buy a fresh turkey, check the “sell by” or “use by” date to make sure that it really is fresh and buy it only 1 or 2 days before you cook it. If you buy a frozen turkey, keep it frozen until you are ready to thaw it for cooking. The USDA recommends that you thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Leave the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a pan to catch any juices that leak. Allow about one day to thaw for each four pounds of bird (for example, four days for a 16-pound turkey). After thawing, it’s safe to store the turkey in the refrigerator for up to two more days. To thaw a frozen turkey more quickly, you can use the cold water method. Cover the bird in its original wrapping in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes per pound of turkey and cook the turkey immediately after thawing. You can also use a microwave oven to thaw your turkey. Be sure to follow the oven manufacturer’s instructions. If you use this method, plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some parts of the bird may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.
When the big day comes and it’s time to prepare your feast, wash your hands but don’t wash the turkey. Washing poultry can spread bacteria around the sink and kitchen and lead to the contamination of other foods. Likewise, keep the raw turkey separate from the other foods you will be serving, using separate cutting boards and utensils to avoid spreading bacteria. For optimum safety, cook stuffing in a casserole dish separate from the turkey. If you are planning to stuff the turkey, mix the stuffing ingredients and stuff the bird just before cooking. Whether inside the bird or out, stuffing should be cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees Farenheit as measured with a food thermometer.
To roast the turkey, set the oven temperature to no lower than 325 degrees Farenheit. Place the turkey breast-side up on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. The time that it takes to roast a turkey depends on the size of the bird, whether or not it is stuffed, the type of pan and the oven itself. Breasts may take from 1½ to 3¼ hours; unstuffed birds will take 2¾ to 5 hours; and stuffed birds 3 to 5¼ hours. The only way to be sure the turkey is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer, checking the temperature at three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. All parts of the turkey must reach 165 degrees Farenheit to ensure that harmful bacteria are killed. Once cooked, remove the bird from the oven and let it stand for 20 minutes before carving. After the feast, be sure to refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Store the meat and stuffing separately and use or freeze within three or four days.
For more information on holiday food safety, contact the Woodford County Extension Office.