For many of us, Thanksgiving dinner is the largest meal we prepare all year. So much time and effort goes into planning. There’s the decorations, the place settings, the side dishes, the guest list, and oh yeah, the turkey! Follow these food safety tips to ensure a safe and delicious turkey at your Thanksgiving dinner.
- If you’re planning on cooking a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving. It may help to call ahead to make sure your grocer will have fresh birds at that time.
- Frozen turkeys can be purchased several weeks before. Just make sure you allow enough time for thawing. Never thaw at room temperature on the counter. Thawing should be done in the refrigerator or in the sink using cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. Contact your local Extension office for detailed information on thawing your turkey.
- Before you start the cooking preparations, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
- Don’t wash the turkey. This can spread bacteria onto kitchen surfaces. All raw meat contains bacteria which cannot be removed simply by washing. The only way to remove the bacteria is to properly cook the turkey.
- Keep the turkey away from all other foods before cooking in order to avoid cross contamination. Don’t prepare any other foods until you have the turkey in the oven and have properly cleaned and sanitized the area.
- If possible, use a different cutting board and knife when preparing the turkey. Wash and sanitize everything that touched the raw meat, even countertops.
- Cook the turkey until it reaches 165 degrees F, measured with a metal stem thermometer. The temperature should be checked in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh.
- It is always safer to cook the stuffing separately. If you choose to stuff your bird, however, use a metal stem thermometer to check the temperature of the stuffing too. The center of the stuffing should reach at least 165 degrees F.
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Eating food that has been sitting for more than two hours carries the risk of food poisoning.
- Do not store stuffing inside the turkey. Remove the stuffing from the bird, and refrigerate it in a separate container.
- Remove the meat from the turkey before storing in the refrigerator. Legs and wings can be left whole. Remember to eat those leftovers within three to four days. If the meat will not be eaten within four days, it can be frozen for up to four months for best quality.
Read Thanksgiving and other food safety tips on the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s website: www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/index.html.
Written by Annhall Norris, Extension Associate for Food Safety and Preservation. Edited by Lauren Fernandez, Oldham County Extension Assistant.