It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and soon delicious, juicy turkeys will take center stage at many of our holiday meals. It’s so important that these birds are properly cooked and prepared, because we don’t want anyone to get sick from a food-borne illness.
It does not matter whether you purchase a fresh or frozen turkey. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cooking safety tips for both on its Food Safety and Inspection Service website. But if you plan to purchase a prestuffed turkey, make sure it is frozen and has a seal that states it was inspected by either the USDA or a state department of agriculture. The USDA does not recommend that you purchase a fresh, pre-stuffed turkey, because if handled incorrectly, harmful bacteria can quickly grow in the stuffing.
You can safely thaw turkeys in either the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave if the turkey is cooked immediately. You can safely cook a frozen turkey, but realize that will it need to cook at least 50 percent longer than a thawed one.
Once you are ready to cook your turkey, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees Fahrenheit and set it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. You can add one-half cup of water to the bottom of the pan to keep the turkey moist. For optimal food safety, the USDA recommends that you cook the turkey and stuffing separately, so you can make sure both reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout each product.
Measure the internal temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer, even if it has a pop-up thermometer in it. Check the temperature in several locations including the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the innermost part of the wing to make sure the temperature is 165 degrees throughout.
Remember to store leftovers within two hours after the meal. Discard any food that’s been left out longer than that. To make reheating easier, divide leftovers into small portions. Eat leftovers within three to four days if they are put in the refrigerator. Leftovers that are frozen will keep for two to six months. Remember when reheating leftovers, check that the internal temperature of the food is at least 165 degrees.
More food safety information and timetables for proper thawing and cooking is available on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at bit.ly/1uKfrNl. For additional food safety information, contact the Letcher Extension office.