Tips to Thaw, Prepare and Stuff your Thanksgiving Turkey Safely
KENNEWICK, Wash. — Cooking a Thanksgiving meal is not for the faint of heart. It takes dedication, expert time management skills, and a list of ingredients that looks like it could feed a small army. From those given the sacred task of quality control to the sous-chef, it’s essential to keep a safe cooking environment for everyone. Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help you keep your family safe from food-borne illnesses and fire. (Burnt desserts and putting out figurative fires over spilling tea…sorry, we can’t help there.)
CLEAN AND SANITIZE
“USDA showed that 95% of participants failed to wash their hands before handling food properly.”
- It’s a good rule of thumb to have everyone involved in the kitchen wash their hands before handling food.
- Keep all surfaces, stoves, and cutting boards clean, especially after handling raw food. In a recent study USDA reported, “60% of kitchen sinks were contaminated with germs after participants washed or rinsed poultry.” (The USDA advises against washing your turkey.)
Expert tip: Be sure to use separate cutting boards—one for meat and another for vegetables and fruit. (USDA)
- IMPORTANT: Never thaw a turkey on a counter or in hot water.
- The USDA said, you can thaw a turkey safely in the refrigerator, cold-water bath, or microwave.
- The refrigerator is a way to safely and slowly thaw you turkey. After thawing, it is safe to store in the refrigerator for one to two days.
- Cold-water bath or microwave; however, it must be cooked immediately after thawing using these methods.
Make sure your turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 F. Measure the internal temperature of turkey with a food thermometer in all three parts:
- The thickest part of the breast
- The innermost part of the wing
- The innermost part of the thigh
USDA does not recommend stuffing your turkey because it could be a “breeding ground” for bacteria if it’s not carefully prepared.
For more information on turkey stuffing, visit Turkey Basics: Stuffing.
- Refrigerate all cooked/perishable food within two hours of being cooked. If you wait longer than two hours, you enter what the USDA calls the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), which is when bacteria can multiply quickly after reaching a certain temperature.
- Leftovers can be safely frozen “indefinitely,” but the USDA said for the best quality, some can only last for two to six months.
- When reheating, check that the internal temperature is at 165 F.
For Thanksgiving food safety questions (From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday):
- Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
- Email MPHotline@usda.gov
- Chat live at ask.usda.gov
The Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8am-2pm EST.
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