Preparing that Thanksgiving meal for family and friends is often hard work. Don’t make it harder by inviting food poisoning, either before or during the preparation and cooking. Brain Severns and Karen Blakeslee, food safety experts from Kansas State University, offer these tips to ensure your guests don’t have a side serving of food poisoning:
- Review those old family recipes. Do the instructions run contrary to safe food preparation?
- Examine your frozen turkey before buying. Excessive ice crystals on the package mean the turkey has been thawed and refrozen. Also make sure the package doesn’t have any nicks, cuts, or broken spots.
- The only safe ways of thawing your bird is in the refrigerator or in cold water that is changed often, and this takes time (and planning). Don’t thaw on the counter, because the outside of the turkey thaws faster than the inside, which allows bacteria to grow.
- Thawing in cold water takes about 30 minutes per pound, and the water needs to be changed every 30 minutes. In the refrigerator it takes about 24 hours per every five pounds.
- In the refrigerator, thaw the turkey on the bottom shelf in a rimmed container that catches any juices. Otherwise you risk cross-contamination with anything on that same shelf (with the turkey, or later).
- Don’t rinse turkey or other raw poultry in the sink. There is no benefit in rinsing poultry, and doing so increases the risk that the water with raw juice will splash on the cook area or utensils.
- Before cooking, remove the giblets and neck and cook these separately.
- Cook stuffing outside of the bird. Simply rub the inside cavity of the turkey with a seasoning or spice blend, and leave empty. This helps ensure the turkey cooks all the way to 165 degrees and your stuffing/dressing doesn’t include raw turkey juice.
- Cook the turkey at no less than 325 degrees – any lower than that, bacteria can grow. Use a meat thermometer to tell when the turkey is done. Check the meatiest part of the bird (typically where the leg meets the body) and look for at least 165 degrees.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, the cooked turkey, and vegetables. Or make sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize the cutting board before switching to another food type. Severns recommends preparing the bird first, then clean the prep area, cutting boards, and utensils (especially knives) in sudsy water and a sink with a bleach solution. Then move on to the vegetables and desserts.
Finally, as much as you may need the rest, after everyone has their fill put the leftovers away. Food should not sit out at room temperature any longer than two hours.