A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Turkey Day is coming; how to safely prepare your favorite Thanksgiving bird to keep everyone healthy

By Sandra Bastin
University of Kentucky

During the holidays, cooking is a very common activity when gathering with family or friends. It is important to instill healthy habits while cooking to ensure a safe and delicious holiday, including proper handling and cooking of your Thanksgiving turkey to avoid foodborne illnesses.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has some tips on how to safely thaw and prepare your turkey or other poultry. There are three recommended ways to thaw your turkey: refrigerator, cold water, or microwave. When using a refrigerator, you can store it for another one to two days. Poultry requires approximately 24 hours of thawing in the fridge for every four to five pounds of bird. When using cold water, submerge the bird in the water and change every 30 minutes. It is recommended to cook immediately after thawing. When using a microwave, use defrost function based on weight. Cook immediately after thawing.

Cooking a turkey safely (USDA photo)

Here are the four steps to properly cooking your turkey:

• Clean

Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water

Make sure your utensils, plates, countertops and cutting boards are thoroughly washed

Do not wash your turkey – this is because bacteria can be present inside and outside a turkey, and it cannot be washed off the bird. Cooking is the only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacteria

• Separate

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

• Cook

Your bird is not safe until it reaches 165 degrees F; you cannot tell by the color

Remember to ensure any stuffing cooked when the bird reaches 165 degrees F as well

Use three places to check the temperature: the thickest part of breast, innermost part of wing, and the innermost part of thigh

When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand for 20 minutes before carving it

• Chill

Refrigerate leftovers within two hours

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for three to four days

You can freeze leftover turkey, but use within six months for best quality and reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 degrees F.

It is extremely important to note that bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses that can’t be smelled or tasted. For more information about food safety, visit ask.usda.gov.

Sandra Bastin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment