Have a Festive Food-Safe Thanksgiving!

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In preparation for Thanksgiving, here are some tips for purchasing, thawing, and preparing the bird for the big feast next week!

Before purchasing your turkey, make space in your refrigerator, moving shelves if necessary. Then come all the decisions – fresh or frozen, size, defrosting, stuffing and cooking.

Fresh or frozen? There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives. By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can get the turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they do not require thawing.

What size turkey do I need to buy? When purchasing a whole turkey, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. You will have enough for the meal and for leftovers.

Never defrost turkey on the counter! Turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. The refrigerator method is the safest and will result in the best quality finished product. Leave the turkey in the original packaging and place in a shallow pan. A whole turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator (a 15-pound frozen bird will take three to four full days to thaw). If buying a fresh turkey, purchase only one to two days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

To thaw in cold water, keep turkey in the original packaging, place in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes. The turkey will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

Once thawed, remove neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep bird and parts refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below until ready to be cooked.

Stuff safely. Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven. Mix the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using. Stuff the turkey loosely, about 3/4-cup stuffing per pound of turkey. Bake any extra stuffing in a greased casserole dish. Cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing recipes must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. For optimum safety and more even cooking, it is recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish.

Take the temperature! There are several methods for cooking your turkey. The single most important thing to know, no matter the cooking method, is that the turkey must be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. A stuffed turkey will take additional time to cook.

Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, cook turkey to higher temperatures but not to exceed 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the breast and 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh. If the turkey is done and the stuffing is not yet 165 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a greased casserole dish to continue cooking to temperature.

Take steps for a festive, food-safe holiday!

Source: holidayfoodsafety.org is sponsored by The Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) in cooperation with: The USDA, FDA and CDC

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cleveland County Center, for more information on food and nutrition and food safety, contact Nancy Abasiekong by phone: 704-482-4365, by e-mail: nancy_abasiekong@ncsu.edu, or by mail: 130 South Post Road, Suite 1, Shelby, NC 28152