Safe Turkey Tips at Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving turkey is an important central theme in the upcoming holiday celebration. The Department of Health reminds residents that since turkey can also be a source of foodborne disease, a few hints about proper storage and cooling methods might be helpful in preventing illness among family and guests.

  • Refrigerate a fresh ready-to-cook whole turkey immediately. They are just as perishable as fresh meat and fresh fish. Be sure to loosely wrap the giblets and store them separately.
  • Keep frozen turkeys frozen and tightly sealed in the original plastic covering before thawing. Never thaw at room temperature. Always thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. This takes time – sometimes several days for larger turkeys (about 1 day for every 5 pounds) – so plan ahead.
  • Wash hands properly before preparing food, after handling raw meat and before eating – Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, rinse and dry hands with a paper towel.
  • Wash the turkey thoroughly before cooking. Be careful to clean and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that come in contact with the raw turkey prior to their contact with other cooked and ready to eat foods. A good disinfecting solution is one (1) teaspoon of household bleach to one (1) gallon of water.
  • Ideally, it is best to cook stuffing separately to keep bacteria from growing in the turkey cavity.
  • If you must stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. If it is necessary to make the stuffing ahead of time, refrigerate it separately. Under no circumstances should the turkey be stuffed and refrigerated overnight.
  • Cook the turkey thoroughly. It’s best to use a meat thermometer to be sure the turkey and stuffing has been cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees F. Never partially cook a turkey and then finish cooking it later. Bacteria can survive in partially cooked turkey.
  • If making gravy, be sure to cook giblets thoroughly and bring the gravy to a boil. Keep the gravy very hot (135 degrees F or above) prior to use. Refrigerate immediately after the meal.
  • As soon as possible after dinner, remove all stuffing from the turkey and store in a clean separate container. Remove turkey from bone and place the turkey and stuffing in the refrigerator or in the freezer immediately.
  • Left-over turkey? Be creative. Take left-over vegetables and turkey and make a deep dish pie or make and freeze personal TV dinners. Take a little of everything, fill an aluminum tin, cover with foil, and freeze. All food and gravies should be reheated to at least 165F before serving.

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