Turkey and Holiday Food Safety Recommendations

Now that the busy holiday season is upon us, remember to take the time to use safe food practices in preparing Thanksgiving and other festive dishes.

Don’t Play Chicken with that Turkey!

Americans ate 17.5 pounds of turkey per person, on the average, in 2001. It’s important to recognize food safety hazards and address these for good family health.

Poultry, including our favorite Thanksgiving bird, is liable to have a supply of bacteria, including commonly seen Salmonella. Under ideal conditions, bacteria can double every 10-20 minutes. One cell can increase to over 16million in eight hours. For this reason, perishable foods, like poultry, should never be held at room temperature for more than two hours.

Tips for Preparing Your Thanksgiving Bird

Here are a few tips to help make food preparations safe:

  • Keep it frozen until ready to thaw for preparation.
  • Thaw it in the refrigerator (40° F) for approximately 24 hours per five pounds (whole turkey). Thawed turkey may remain in the refrigerator 1-2 days.
  • If thawing the turkey in your microwave, check the manufacturer’s instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven, minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing.
  • After thawing, remove the neck and giblets from the neck and body cavities, and wash the turkey inside and out with cold water.

To roast your turkey, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F.

Place your turkey, breast-side-up, in a shallow roasting pan on a lower shelf of your oven, or in an electric roaster, if you have one. Tuck wing tips back under shoulders of bird. Add 1/2 cup of water in the bottom of the pan. A tent of aluminum foil may be placed over the turkey after the turkey has reached a golden brown color.

Cooking Timetable for Unstuffed Turkey at 325°F

8-12 pounds – 2 3/4-3 hours
12-14 pounds – 3-3 3/4 hours
14-18 pounds – 3 3/4-4 1/4 hours
18-20 pounds – 4 1/4-4 1/2 hours
20-24 pounds – 4 1/2-5 hours

Be sure to check the temperature with a food thermometer, in the thickest part of the breast. The turkey should reach 180°F, and the stuffing 165°F, after standing time. Food thermometers are available at a reasonable price in hardware and variety stores. Allow the turkey to stand 20 minutes before carving.

Be sure to get leftovers into the refrigerator within 2 hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly, in shallow containers. Wrap them tightly for better quality.

Stuffing Safety

According to the USDA, stuffing should be cooked separately for optimal safety and uniform doneness. Turkeys that are grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved should not be stuffed.

The USDA does not recommend buying retail-stuffed, fresh turkeys from a store or restaurant. However, if cooking a home stuffed turkey, make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165° F by checking it with a food thermometer.

Regardless of the turkey temperature, the stuffing should not be removed from the turkey until it has reached 165° F and can safely be removed without contaminating the meat. Cooking a stuffed turkey will usually take at least 50 percent longer than cooking an unstuffed turkey.

Refrigerate the turkey and stuffing within two hours after cooking. Leftovers may be kept for 3-4 days and should be reheated to 165 degrees F.

Dessert Safety

Homemade desserts and toppings made with eggs or cream including cream pies, pumpkin pies, pecan pies, meringue pies, and hollandaise sauce must be stored under refrigeration at 40°F or less to prevent bacterial growth. Some commercial pies are chemically altered to prevent bacterial growth making them shelf stable.

Serving Safety

Always serve food on clean plates; never reuse dishes that have been contaminated with raw meat or eggs.

Wash hands, cutting boards, knives, and countertops frequently to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Make sure to use good hygiene and safe food handling practices in the kitchen.

Have a safe and happy holiday!