Having turkey for the holidays is a tradition for many, so here are some tips on how to handle the big ole bird in a safely to prevent any foodborne illnesses.
1. Wash your hands before and after handling, preparing or cooking any food. This way you can prevent the spread of microbes that could make your family sick.
2. Defrost the bird properly. The easiest way to defrost the turkey is in the refrigerator so you have to do some planning for that. The general rule for refrigerator-thawing time 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds. For example: A 15-pound frozen bird will take 3 to 4 full days to thaw in the refrigerator. If you defrost it in water, use a thermometer to make sure the turkey’s temperature stays below 41º Fahrenheit.
3. Separate your raw turkey from any other raw foods by using a separate cutting board for the meat or washing thoroughly the cutting boards after every use. This will prevent cross-contamination of other food items.
4. Don’t wash the bird! This will not clean it, eliminate bacteria, or do anything but contaminate your kitchen counter and your turkey. This practice comes from the times when people kill their birds and needed to pluck the feathers, so it is not needed now. The only way you can kill any germs is cooking your turkey at the correct temperature, not less than 165º Fahrenheit. To measure the temperature, insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, wing and breast, not touching the bone. try not to exceed 180º since the breast could get very dry. For more information go to Why NOT to Wash Your Thanksgiving Turkey
5. Stuff safely! The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends not stuffing the turkey, but cooking it separately, since the raw juices from the meat will soak the stuffing in the bird. If you would like to have a stuffed turkey, cook your stuffing and when the turkey is done, stuff the turkey with it. Check this article about stuffing Should I Precook My Turkey Stuffing?
6. Refrigerate promptly! Refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours of being cooked to prevent the rapid growth of bacteria. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and shallow containers so they cool quicker. You can eat turkey leftovers up to 4-7 days after cooked. Remember to keep your fridge between 40º-38º Fahrenheit to keep your food at a safe temperature.
For more information about enjoying your turkey and Thanksgiving Day safely check these resources:
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