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Countdown to Thanksgiving Dinner


The Thanksgiving meal is the largest many cooks prepare each year.  Getting it just right, especially the turkey brings a fair amount of pressure whether or not a host is experienced with roasting one.  The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issues specific food safety recommendations on how to properly prepare a turkey to make sure yours is both delicious and safe to serve.

Unsafe handling and undercooking of your turkey can lead to serious food borne illness.  Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking a turkey.

Steps to follow before cooking a turkey:

  • Read labels carefully.  They show if the bird is fresh or frozen.  If you plan to serve a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving.
  • Purchase two thermometers: a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the turkey is stored at 40 degrees or slightly below and a food thermometer to make sure the cooked turkey reaches a safe 165 degrees.
  • If purchasing a frozen turkey, thaw the turkey by using the microwave, the cold water method, or the refrigerator.  The refrigerator method is USDA recommended.  Allow 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey for thawing in the refrigerator.  A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.

Steps to follow when cooking a turkey:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before touching any food to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness.
  • Do not wash the turkey.  This only spreads pathogens onto kitchen surfaces.  The only way to kill bacteria that causes food borne illness is to fully cook the turkey.
  • Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times.
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination.  Wash items that have touched raw meat with soap and warm water, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • Cook the turkey until it reaches 165 degrees, as measured by a food thermometer.  Check the turkey’s temperature by inserting the thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

·        Cover the turkey with a tent of aluminum foil and allow to sit for 30 minutes before slicing.

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