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  • Last modified 28 days ago (Nov. 20, 2018)

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Food safety tips ward off holiday illness

Heeding food safety tips for preparing a Thanksgiving meal can keep family and guests healthy this holiday season.

Thanksgiving dinner is the largest meal prepared during the year for many cooks. United States Department of Agriculture offers tips for keeping food-borne illness away this holiday weekend.

A fresh turkey should be purchased no more than two days before Thanksgiving.

If using a frozen turkey, use a refrigerator thermometer to ensure it is stored at or slightly below 40 degrees, and a food thermometer to be sure it is cooked to a safe 165 degrees. Cooking to 165 degrees kills bacteria and prevents food-borne illness.

Before cooking a frozen turkey, thaw it in a refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave, but not on the counter.

Before cooking the turkey, wash hands with soap and warm water, but do not wash the turkey because that spreads pathogens onto kitchen surfaces.

Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times.

Use a separate cutting board and other utensils for raw turkey to prevent cross-contamination.

Any items that have touched raw meat should be washed with warm soap and water or in a dishwasher.

Cooking a home-stuffed turkey is riskier than cooking one not stuffed. Even if the turkey itself has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast, stuffing may not have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria.

Pop-up thermometers that come with some turkeys are an indicator of temperature, but they’re not the true temperature of the innermost part of the turkey. These can pop up before the bird is cooked through. Cooks should still take temperature readings in various areas of the turkey.

Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing.

Leftovers should be stored in shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents the food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures.

If stuffing is cooked inside a turkey, remove it and store it separately from the turkey.

Don’t store leftovers in the refrigerator more than four days. To keep leftovers longer, freeze them.

If leftover turkey is traveling home with a guest, place it in a cooler with frozen gel packs or ice. The turkey will be safe for up to two hours.

“Remember, take time to plan out the meal, keep safe food handling tips in mind, and enjoy your time with family and friends,” said Tristen Cope, Marion County extension agent.

Turkey myths

  • Myth: Leave food outside to keep it cold.

Fact: Storing food outside isn’t safe. Potential contamination by animals is one reason. Temperature variation is another. Just as the inside of a car gets warm in sunshine, so does food stored outside in plastic containers.

  • Myth: You can’t cook a frozen turkey.

Fact: Yes, you can. A frozen turkey will need to cook at least 50 percent longer than a thawed turkey. If you cannot separate the giblet package from the turkey at the start, remember to remove it carefully with tongs or a fork a few hours into cooking.

  • Myth: The bird is done when juices run clear.

Fact: Use a food thermometer to tell when a turkey is cooked. When the thermometer reads 165 degrees, the turkey is fully cooked. Juices seldom run clear at this temperature, and when they do, the bird is often overcooked.

For turkey day advice

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can be reached at (888) 674-6854. Food safety specialists speaking English and Spanish will help cooks between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. central time weekdays. They will also be available 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thanksgiving day.

Last modified Nov. 20, 2018

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