Thanksgiving is a time to be around loved ones, watch football and eat delicious food. However, unsafe handling of or under-cooking your food items can cause a foodborne illness. Here are some tips to consider while preparing, cooking and handling the leftovers of your Thanksgiving Day meal.
When shopping for your meal items, ensure you are checking the sell-by or use-by dates on the products. Check the items to make sure the packages are not damaged. When possible, it’s best to select your frozen items last or just before checkout. Once you arrive home from your shopping trip, properly store your items.
Allow multiple days for your turkey to defrost or thaw prior to cooking. The USDA recommends using a refrigerator to thaw your turkey. Place the turkey into a container that will prevent the juices from dripping onto other foods within your refrigerator, which will avoid cross contamination. In order to properly calculate how much time your turkey will need to thaw, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds. Utilize the table as a guide to help correctly plan for when you will need to remove your turkey from the freezer.
Public Health does not recommend using a microwave to thaw your turkey. Generally turkeys are too large to fit safely into a microwave. However, if a microwave is used to thaw your turkey, it must be cooked immediately after thawing.
Check your kitchen for all equipment items that you may need prior to cooking. One item you should purchase if you do not already own it is a food thermometer. This item will be needed to ensure that your food is prepared to the correct internal temperature. Thermometers should always be cleaned before and after use. The temperature danger zone is between 40°F and 140°F. When food is held in this temperature range, bacteria can grow rapidly, leading to a foodborne illness. Always wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling food. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria from raw or uncooked foods come in contact with ready-to-eat foods. Separate raw turkey from fresh food and use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils. Wash items that touch raw meat with soap and warm water.
Turkey should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. You cannot always tell if your turkey is at the proper internal temperature simply by observing the color of the meat. This is why having a thermometer available is important. Minimum temperatures should be checked at the innermost part of the thigh, the wing, and the thickest area of the turkey breast. Once the temperature has reached 165°F in all parts of the turkey, remove from the oven. Let the turkey sit for at least 20 minutes prior to removing stuffing and carving. This will allow the juices to settle and help prevent injuries from burns. Use the table below to help determine the proper cooking time.
To ensure your leftover food items stay safe, properly store your food within 2 hours of cooking. This will help reduce the risk of bacteria growth. Leftovers can be safely stored in your refrigerator for 3-4 days. Turkey should be cut into smaller pieces and stored in separate, smaller containers. If you are traveling with leftovers, use a cooler. Reheat your items to a temperature of 165° prior to consumption.
By following these simple steps, you can avoid putting your friends’ and family’s health at risk. For more information or questions regarding food safety, contact the Tinker Public Health office at 582-6542. Online resources for food safety include: foodsafety.gov, fsis.usda.gov and cdc.gov.