According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 80 percent of all foodborne illnesses are linked to meat and poultry. To help ensure safe holiday cooking and a delicious feast for all, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) member and audited designator NSF International is offering home cooks tips on proper food handling, preparation, and storage to avoid turkey trouble.
Go Cold Turkey!
Don't let an uncooked turkey sit at room temperature. At the grocery store, shop for the turkey last and refrigerate it promptly when you return home. Have the grocery store bag it separately and place the turkey below other food in the refrigerator.
Never attempt to thaw a turkey by leaving it to sit out overnight, as bacteria multiplies rapidly at room temperature. To thaw a frozen turkey safely, use one of the following methods:
Refrigerator method: Place a covered turkey in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. It can take several days to completely thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, depending upon its size. Cold water method: Place the plastic-wrapped turkey in a pan of cold water. Change the water frequently, approximately every 30 minutes, until the turkey thaws. Submerging method: Completely submerge the turkey under a stream of running water until it thaws. The water temperature should not exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's All in the Prep
To avoid cross contamination, keep the turkey on a platter or in the roaster; never place it directly on the counter. Once you have finished handling the turkey or any other raw foods, be sure to clean and sanitize the counter and used cutting boards thoroughly.
Also be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey or other foods, using warm water and soap.
The Right Stuff
While it is safest to prepare stuffing on the stove, those who prefer to cook stuffing inside the turkey should wait to stuff the bird until immediately before putting it in the oven. Be sure to use only pre-cooked meats and vegetables in the stuffing mixture, and check the stuffing with a meat thermometer to be sure it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the center. A fully cooked turkey can still contain undercooked and potentially hazardous stuffing.
Is It Done Yet? Avoid the Early Bird
Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness, even if the turkey has a pop-up timer. To test properly, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh away from the bone. When the temperature reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the turkey should be done. Never attempt to cook a partially thawed turkey, as it may cook unevenly. Remember to clean and sanitize the end of the thermometer between each use.
Make Room for Leftovers
No one ever asks, "What's for dinner?" on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
All leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner should be refrigerated immediately. If large portions of any dish remain, separate the leftovers into smaller containers, cover loosely, and place them in the refrigerator. Separating food into smaller containers helps it cool down more quickly, reducing the chance for bacteria to multiply.
For more food safety tips, visit the Food Safety section of NSF's website.