As Thanksgiving nears, it’s good to remember that food safety is especially important as you prepare your holiday meal. Within the last couple of years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has investigated outbreaks of food-borne illness that were caused by bacteria in a number of foods. Many consumers are now more aware of the importance of food safety.
To that end, the CDC has partnered with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry. The FSIS has assembled preparation tips intended to serve as safety reminders to those who are already familiar with meat and poultry preparation safety and as guidelines for the first-time chef.
When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to adequate temperature.
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The “danger zone” is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature range where food-borne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the “danger zone.”
There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven.
Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods.
After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they come in contact with other foods.
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer.
Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165 degrees, possibly resulting in food-borne illness.
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.
Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary.
The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
Following these cooking guidelines can help you prepare a safe holiday dinner that everyone will enjoy.