The holiday season is here, and food safety is especially important as you prepare your holiday meal. Sacramento County Environmental Management Department’s (EMD) food safety specialists and Sacramento County Public Health say improper preparation of meals and handling of leftovers can make you sick. Let’s prevent foodborne illness during the holidays with good hygiene and safe food handling practices at home.
“The proper handling of raw meats/poultry and vegetables when preparing and cooking can usually prevent foodborne illness. It’s also important to store leftovers correctly. Another must is frequent hand-washing and thoroughly cleaning surfaces and utensils that come into contact with raw meats – especially poultry,” EMD’s Kelly McCoy, Deputy Division Chief said.
SAFE TURKEY 101
When preparing a turkey, be aware of five important safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, cooking to proper temperature, and handling of leftovers.
#1 Safe Thawing
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature in the refrigerator. The "danger zone" is between 41 and 135°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe for up to six months, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again if it is in the "danger zone."
#2 Safe Preparation
As you prepare the turkey, bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils and work surfaces, which then can be transferred. After working with raw poultry, always wash utensils and work surfaces, as well as your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before touching other foods.
#3 Safe Stuffing
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.
#4 Safe Cooking
Before cooking, always thaw turkeys completely in the refrigerator Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F. Place turkey breast-side up on a wire rack in a shallow roasting pan. Check the internal temperature using a food thermometer – the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh and wing joint must reach 165°F at a minimum. Cooking times will vary. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes. Remove all stuffing from the cavity and carve the meat.
#5 Handling Leftovers
Perishable foods should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. For optimum results, remove turkey meat from the bone and promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers. Reheating a whole turkey is NOT recommended. To reheat turkey, cut the meat into smaller pieces and keep legs and wings whole – before serving the turkey, it must reach 165°F.
#6 Leftover Storage Timeframes
Refrigerator (41°F or below)
Freezer (0 °F or below)
Turkey, plain; slices or pieces …… 4 mos.
Turkey covered with broth or gravy …… 6 mos.
Cooked poultry dishes, stuffing, and gravy …… 4-6 mos.
For additional food safety information, visit the Environmental Management Department website or call, 916-875-8440.