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turkey1By Terri Mendoza and Lydia Fernandes

One of the most anticipated meals of the year is right around the corner!   While you’re thinking of who to invite, where everyone will sit, and what to serve, you might not remember to think about the important but probably less interesting topic of food safety!  Take a look at these simple tips that will help to keep your family and friends from getting sick—never a fun way to spend the holiday!

The basics:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before touching any food, especially after touching raw meat.
  • Don’t wash the turkey! This might be a hard habit to break, but washing any type of raw meat, poultry or fish actually does more harm than good. Any bacteria will be killed once those foods are cooked, but washing them first only spreads harmful bacteria onto kitchen surfaces and appliances.
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey (or any raw meat, poultry or fish) to avoid contaminating other foods or objects.
  • Keep raw turkey separate from all other foods at all Wash any objects that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or run through the dishwasher.

 The main attraction:

 If you’re buying fresh turkey, don’t get it more than 2 days before Thanksgiving.

Tips for thawing:

If you prefer to buy frozen turkey, make sure you’re thawing it safely!  Never just leave the turkey out of the refrigerator to thaw on its own, since that gives plenty of time for bacteria to grow.  Instead, use one of these methods to thaw your turkey:

 Refrigeration method: This is the best way to defrost frozen turkey, but you need to plan ahead, and consider how much the turkey weighs to figure out how long it will take to thaw. Using this handy guide can help: Refrigerator Thawing Times:

    • 4-12 lbs.: 1-3 days
    • 12-16 lbs.: 3-4 days
    • 16-20 lbs.: 4-5 days
    • 20-24 lbs.: 5-6 days
  1. Cold water method: Keep the turkey in its packaging and place it breast side down on a pan in the sink. Run enough cold water over the turkey to completely cover it. If the turkey cannot be covered completely, change the water every 30 minutes.
  • Cold Water Thawing Times:
    • 4-12 lbs. : 2-6 hours
    • 12-16 lbs. : 6-8 hours
    • 16-20 lbs. : 8-10 hours
    • 20-24 lbs. : 10-12 hours
  1. Microwave method: Follow the microwave manufacturer’s instructions when defrosting a turkey. Note that you’ll need to cook it immediately after thawing.

 Time to get cooking!

Use a food thermometer (available at most grocery stores) to make sure your turkey is cooked thoroughly.

  • Turkey should be cooked to 165º F.—the temperature that kills bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.
  • It’s safest to cook stuffing in a separate dish, and not in the turkey. But if you do stuff it in the turkey, make sure it reaches 165º F.
  • Check the temperature of the turkey in at least 2 different places:
    • The thickest part of the breast
    • The innermost part of the thigh

 That was delicious!  Now what? 

While it’s tempting to leave leftovers out and not rush to clean up, it’s not a good idea!

  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food.
  • Turkey should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Don’t store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate it in a separate container.
  • Avoid eating leftovers that have been left in the refrigerator for longer than 3 or 4 days. Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods of time.
  • If you are lucky enough to go home with leftovers, keep them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs to keep them cold until you get home.

Wishing a happy—and healthy!—Thanksgiving to all!

 Lydia Fernandes was a dietetic intern from Tufts University in 2017.

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