Whether you are a seasoned chef or a novice preparing your first holiday meal, you should be aware of safety issues when thawing, cooking and storing your Thanksgiving feast, according to Jane Lux, public health administrator at the DeKalb County Health Department.
Safe turkey prep
Cooks preparing a frozen turkey should make their purchase a few days to a week in advance to allow thawing. Fresh, unfrozen poultry should be kept in the refrigerator no longer than two days before cooking. Frozen turkeys that have been thawed should be cooked within four days.
Thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for every five pounds of turkey.
Remove the neck and giblets from inside the bird as soon as possible to hasten thawing. Leave the frozen bird in its original wrapper and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak. Bacteria in meat juices can cross-contaminate other foods that will be eaten without further cooking or that are already cooked, possibly causing foodborne illness.
If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you may thaw a turkey in cold water, provided that the turkey is in leak-proof packaging, it is submerged and the water is changed every half-hour. Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey to thaw in cold water.
Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw poultry. Wash all knives, cutting boards and utensils that come into contact with raw poultry as well.
Read and follow the cooking directions on the label. Cook turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Do not slow-cook overnight at low temperatures or partially cook. Some turkeys come with a pop-up thermometer; this should be used only as a guide. Take the temperature with a meat thermometer to be sure the temperature is over 165°F.
Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.
Reheat leftovers to 165°F.
For help or more information, call the Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854.