Thanksgiving is the official kick-off of the holiday season, and is traditionally celebrated with a gathering of family and friends and a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s. But sometimes the bird that is the centerpiece of the meal can lead to unhappy consequences for all involved.
Your family physicians and internal medicine doctors at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, want to ensure you and your guests enjoy the holiday and avoid the emergency room. Here is a list of tips for safe handling of your turkey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
1. Thaw safely
The turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that you change every 30 minutes, or in the microwave, although most microwaves won’t accommodate the average-size Thanksgiving turkey. Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. When the bird is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, it invites the rapid growth of bacteria (camphylobacter and salmonella); the danger zone is ambient temperatures over 40 degrees. Most dangerous pathogens—those responsible for food poisoning—don’t grow below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Handle safely
Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches. Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces for 20 seconds with hot soap and water. Use separate a cutting board and plates for the turkey. Don’t wash or rinse the bird. It’s unnecessary and the aerosolized droplets can spray as far as three feet and contaminate everything in the kitchen. If the bird has visible blood, absorb it with paper towels and toss them in the trash.
3. Stuff safely
Cooking dressing separately in a casserole dish not only ensures it is thoroughly cooked, but isn’t contaminated by harmful bacteria from the turkey. If you do stuff the dressing into the turkey, do so just before cooking. Then use a food thermometer to ensure the stuffing’s center reaches 165 degrees. After removing the bird from the oven, wait 20 minutes before removing the stuffing from the turkey’s cavity, which allows it to cook a bit more.
4. Cook safely
The CDC recommends setting the oven temperature to at least 325 degrees. Cooking times vary, of course, based on the weight of the turkey. Check doneness by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing, and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. The turkey is done when the temperature on the meat thermometer reads 180 degrees in the thigh and 165 degrees in the breast and stuffing.
5. Store safely
Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that grow in cooked foods left at room temperature. The CDC says it is the second-most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. To avoid the very unpleasant results of contacting this pathogen, refrigerate leftovers at 40 degrees or colder within two hours of preparation. Do not put the whole bird into the refrigerator; cut it into portions, which will allow it to cool faster.
The special safety considerations of deep frying
The popularity of deep-fried turkey has been growing in recent years, because the resulting meat is especially moist and flavorful. But this method of cooking entails its own set of safety concerns. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
1. The CDC cautions against deep frying any turkey over 14 pounds. Any size bird over that weight should be cut up, separating the legs and thighs from the breast, and cooking them separately.
2. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends against stuffing a deep-fried turkey; because the meat cooks so rapidly, there won’t be time to cook the stuffing hot enough to kill any bacteria.
3. Set up the fryer at least 10 feet away from the house, on flat ground to prevent tipping. Never allow children or pets near the cooker, and never leave the cooker unattended.
4. If the turkey still contains ice crystals or water, it can cause the oil to bubble excessively and spill over when it’s immersed in the hot oil. Be sure the bird is completely thawed and thoroughly dried.
5. Keep a multi-purpose, dry-powder fire extinguisher on hand at all times in case the oil ignites.
Follow these tips and enjoy the day! Safely.