Despite what Julia Child might have told us during the height of her authority on all things related to home cooking, we should not be washing our raw poultry — especially not in the kitchen sink.
To ensure your family enjoys Thanksgiving without any gastrointestinal interruptions, Food Safety News has compiled a guide to Thanksgiving food safety, starting with one of the most important tips of all:
Don’t rinse your turkey
Rinsing raw poultry isn’t a very effective way to clean bacteria from your meal, but it is a great way to spread bacteria around your kitchen. Washing poultry aerosolizes bacteria and splashes it around onto anything within several feet of your sink.
Let the cooking process taking care of the bacteria. Plus, from a cooking perspective, you’ll want the turkey skin dry to be crispy when cooked.
Stay smart about preparing the turkey
Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator or in a pan of cold water, changing out the water as often as every half-hour. Start the thawing process at least 24 hours before you plan to start cooking.
If you bought a fresh turkey, keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cook.
If you decide to cook the turkey while it’s still frozen, you’ll need to cook it for 50 percent longer than the advised time.
Avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board and knife for trimming the turkey. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the turkey and before touching anything else in the kitchen.
Turkey cooking times
The bigger the bird, the longer it’ll need to cook. Here are approximate cook times for turkey in an oven at 325 degrees F:
4 to 6 lb. breast …… 1.5 to 2.5 hours
6 to 8 lb. breast …… 2.5 to 3.5 hours
8 to 12 lbs. ………….. 2.75 to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs. ………… 3 to 3.75 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …………. 3.75 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. ………… 4.25 to 4.5 hours
20 to 24 lbs. ………… 4.5 to 5 hours
8 to 12 lbs. …… 3 to 3.5 hours
12 to 14 lbs. …… 3.5 to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs. …… 4 to 4.5 hours
18 to 20 lbs. …… 4.25 to 4.75 hours
20 to 24 lbs. …… 4.75 to 5.25 hours
You’ll have to check for yourself to ensure that the bird is fully cooked in this amount of time.
Turkey is safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
Trust a good thermometer over your eyes. Meat can appear cooked even when it hasn’t reached 165 degrees F, and it can sometimes appear pink well past that temperature.
Cook stuffing just as thoroughly
If you’re stuffing your turkey, combine the ingredients and perform the stuffing just before you plan to stick the bird in the oven. Aim for about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey.
Because it comes into contact with raw poultry, stuffing also needs to be cooked to a minimum 165 degrees F. If the turkey is done but the stuffing isn’t, remove the stuffing and bake it separately in a greased casserole dish.
Store leftovers promptly
Don’t leave dishes sitting at room temperature for more than two hours after taking them out of the oven or refrigerator. Refrigerate any foods made with perishable ingredients such as meat, milk or eggs. This includes pumpkin pie.
When storing leftovers, portion them out into shallow dishes so that they cool rapidly in the refrigerator or freezer. Cut breast meat into smaller pieces. Wings and legs can be left whole.
When thawing frozen leftovers, use the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave, rather than leaving frozen food out on the counter.
Food safety resources
For more information about how to safely handle, serve and store your holiday food, call 1-888-SAFEFOOD (FDA), 1-888-MPHOTLINE (USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline), email email@example.com, or visit AskKaren.gov.
For some statistics, history, and FAQs about our native bird, visit the National Turkey Federation website.© Food Safety News