Gobble Gobble. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and many of you will soon be prepping the old butter-ball for your friends and family. Thanksgiving turkey, like all meat and poultry, must be handled properly in order to avoid foodborne illnesses from affecting your holiday. Here’s how to properly prepare your turkey and keep your meal safe…
There is nothing better than a fresh turkey on Thanksgiving Day accompanied with all the fixings. Can’t you almost smell the garlic and herbs wafting through your kitchen? Whether you dry-brine, deep-fry or lather the bird in white wine and butter, the preliminary steps of turkey preparation are the same. One of the biggest issues facing poultry prep is the spread of pathogenic bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella that can cause foodborne illnesses. If you are not dressing or cooking your turkey properly, you are putting yourself and your fellow diners at risk!
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
If you are buying a frozen turkey, the meat needs to be completely thawed before cooking it— otherwise, you might not cook it thoroughly. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), when the turkey begins to defrost, any bacteria present before being frozen can continue to grow again. Therefore, the defrosting process must be done correctly. It takes approximately 24 hours to thaw roughly 5lbs of turkey meat. The average size turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15lbs, therefore you should allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator. Once the turkey is thawed, it is recommended that you cook it within two days. Failing to cook the meat within this time-frame may result in foodborne illness if harmful pathogens are present and the meat is not cooked thoroughly.
Prepping a Fresh Turkey
You have two days from the purchase of a fresh turkey to get that bird in the oven! If you are starting with a fresh, or even a recently-thawed turkey, you may feel inclined to wash the meat before you begin your seasoning preparations. Resist the urge!
“Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to splash and spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, frying, or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.” (USDA)
After handling your turkey, you also want to be sure to wash your hands and any utensils or plates that came into contact with the raw meat as these can serve as a source of cross-contamination. Using platters interchangeably is never a good idea as this can allow for the transfer of pathogenic bacteria from the poultry to other dishes. So, after the turkey is in the oven, make sure to thoroughly clean your counters before moving on to the side dishes!
If not properly maintained, cutting boards can harbor harmful bacteria. Cutting boards with nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, marble, glass, or pyro ceramic, are easier than wood to clean. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends consumers use a nonporous surface for cutting raw meat and poultry.
Temperature = 165°F
It doesn’t matter if you started with a fresh or frozen turkey, and, even if the turkey looks perfectly cooked with a crisp brown exterior, the inside of the meat must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it is safe for consumption. In order to properly check the temperature of the meat, you want to make sure to use a thermometer in three separate places. First, check the breast (the thickest part of the bird), if this has reached 165° you then want to check the thighs and the wings to make sure they are the same temperature.
Thanksgiving almost always means great leftovers through the weekend, right? …Only if you store your meat properly! You want to have your leftovers refrigerated within two hours. If properly refrigerated, your leftover turkey meat will last for 3-4 days. That means four days of Thanksgiving sandwiches. Yum!
The Bottom Line:
We want our readers to have a happy Thanksgiving filled with lots of yummy, clean, and safe turkey! For more clean kitchen tips & tricks check out our recent post, Did You Hear the Joke About the Germ?