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Extension: Tips for keeping your Thanksgiving turkey food-safe

By Barbara Worley  For the Forsyth County News

The traditional star of the Thanksgiving table is turkey.  Having a memorable and delicious meal can turn disastrous if measures are not taken to ensure that you and your loved ones stay food-safe.

Safe purchasing

Shop for refrigerator and frozen items last. Have the turkey be the final item you put in the cart before heading for the checkout line.

Go straight home and immediately put your turkey in the refrigerator or freezer. 

Safe thawing

Three recommended methods: Refrigerator, cold water and microwave.

Plan ahead for thawing in the refrigerator. For every 5 pounds of turkey allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time in a refrigerator set at or below 40 degrees.  After thawing, keep turkey refrigerated for only one to two days. If storing longer, place turkey in the freezer.

If you forget to thaw the turkey, or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don’t panic. You can submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. 

Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Change the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. Turkeys thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately.

Follow the oven manufacturer’s instructions when thawing a turkey in the microwave. Check the instructions for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave, the minutes per pound and the power level to use. 

Plan to cook immediately after thawing because some areas of the turkey may begin to cook during microwave thawing.

Never thaw at room temperature.  It quickly warms the surface of food where most bacteria are present, allows bacteria to multiply rapidly and allows the production of toxins (poisons).

Safe cooking

Set the oven no lower than 325 degrees and place breast-side up in the pan. Most cooking times are based on a pre-heated oven.

Cook stuffing separately in a casserole dish. Use a food thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the stuffing has reached 165 degrees in the middle, thickest part.

If you choose to stuff your turkey, the ingredients can be prepped ahead of time.  However, keep wet and dry ingredients separate and do not pre-stuff the bird. Chill all the wet ingredients (butter/margarine, cooked celery and onions, broth, etc.). Mix wet and dry ingredients just before stuffing the turkey. Fill the cavities loosely. Cook the turkey immediately. 

Check the temperature of the turkey in several locations, being sure to include the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast. Even if the turkey has a “pop up” indicator, it is also recommended that a food thermometer be used. Be sure the thermometer does not touch bone.

All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees.

When turkey is removed from the oven, let stand 20 minutes.

Safe leftovers

Refrigerate turkey and stuffing separately within two hours of cooking. 

Cut turkey in to small pieces and store in shallow containers.

Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days and gravy within one to two days.

Leftovers can be frozen for up to six months. 

Reheat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees.

For more information on Thanksgiving food safety, please contact UGA Extension in Forsyth County at 770-887-2418 or visit Forsyth County Extension is supported by The University of Georgia, Forsyth County Government, Forsyth County Board of Education and United Way of Forsyth County.

Barbara Worley is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the UGA Extension Forsyth County.