Thanksgiving is here and many of us will soon prep the ol' butterball for your friends and family. Turkey, like all meat and poultry, must be handled properly to avoid foodborne illnesses. Here’s how to prepare your turkey for all to enjoy.
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 pathogens like Campylobacter and Salmonella that can cause foodborne illnesses.
Here’s how you keep yourself and your fellow diners safe by dressing and cooking your turkey properly…
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 5 lbs of turkey meat. The average size turkey purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 lbs, so allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator.
Once the turkey is thawed, cook it within two days. Failing to cook the meat within this timeframe 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! You may feel inclined to wash the meat before you begin your seasoning preparations. Resist the urge!
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!
“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.”
– United States Department of Agriculture
Cutting boards with nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, marble, glass, or 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.
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?