When preparing your Thanksgiving meal, keep food safety in mind. The best way to prevent foodborne illness during the holidays is with good hygiene and safe food handling practices at home.
Sacramento County Environmental Management Department
(EMD) food safety specialists and Sacramento County Public Health say improper preparation of meals and handling of leftovers can make you sick. Also, according to Centers of Disease Control
(CDC), since July there has been an outbreak of salmonella that has spread to 35 states and sickened over 160 people. The US Department of Agriculture
has recalled over 91,000 pounds of raw ground turkey linked to the ongoing salmonella outbreak but reminds everyone to always handle raw turkey carefully, do not cross-contaminate surfaces and other foods, and cook thoroughly. Additionally, the CDC announced today that there is a safety alert of any type of romaine lettuce due to an E. coli illness outbreak and has advised disposing of the lettuce.
“Raw meats, poultry and vegetables should be handled properly when preparing and cooking to help 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,” said EMD Program Manager Jason Boetzer.
To keep yourself and your loved ones safe when preparing a turkey, be aware of five important safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, cooking to proper temperature, and handling of leftovers.
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature in the refrigerator. The "danger zone" is between 41 and 135°F — this is 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." Give yourself enough lead time to thaw your turkey safely in your refrigerator.
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.
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.
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.
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. Be sure to reheat all your leftovers to a minimum of 165°F.
Leftover Storage Timeframes
Refrigerator (41°F or below)
- Cooked turkey …… 3 to 4 days
- Cooked dishes and gravy …… 3 to 4 days
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.