By Betsy Finklea
It’s turkey time, and the meal is one of the main highlights of Thanksgiving Day.
The Dillon Herald spoke with Janice López-Muñoz, Public Affairs Specialist at the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA, who gave us the dish on how to prepare and have a safe Thanksgiving meal.
López-Muñoz emphasized the four steps to food safety: 1) Clean, 2) Separate, 3) Cook, and 4) Chill.
López-Muñoz said hands should be washed property when handling food. She said to wet hands with running water; add soap; lather the soap including the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails; wash for at least 20 seconds; use clean water to rinse your hands; and use a clean towel to dry them. This should always be adhered to, but especially when handling raw meat or turkey.
Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards, plates, utensils, etc. used for raw meat and other side dishes, etc. Do not wash or rinse a raw turkey as this can cause the spread of bacteria to other surfaces where cross-contamination can occur. It’s a good idea to sanitize all the surfaces where you have been preparing your meal.
López-Muñoz said food should always be cooked to a safe internal temperature. This can be measured by using a food thermometer. Here are a few tips when thawing and preparing your turkey.
To safely thaw your turkey, don’t just place on the kitchen counter. Put it the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave oven. If thawing in the refrigerator, which is likely the easiest way, keep in mind that it will take approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of the turkey. So a 15-lb. turkey will take about three days to thaw out in the refrigerator. The other methods are a bit more complex. Also, don’t stuff your turkey until you plan to cook it.
To cook the thawed turkey, López-Muñoz recommends setting the oven temperature at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooking time for an unstuffed, thawed 14-18 lb. turkey is 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours in a 325-degree Fahrenheit oven.
López-Muñoz said the internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature should be taken with a conventional food thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.
The last step is going ahead and sharing the meal promptly with your family and friends, said López-Muñoz. Perishable items should not stay at room temperature for more than two hours. Leftovers should go directly into the refrigerator. Divide them into small portions or shallow containers, and refrigerate or freeze them. Leftovers are safe in the refrigerator for up to four days so after the Monday after Thanksgiving, throw them away. Frozen leftovers can be kept for approximately two to six months and should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit when used.
Following a few simple tips can help you have a safe meal and avoid food poisoning.
If you find on Thanksgiving Day that you need help or have more questions, there’s good news.
López-Muñoz said the Meat and Poultry Toll-Free Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) will be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. EST. If during a regular weekday, you have a question, the hotline is open weekdays, Monday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Don’t hesitate to call if you have a question about food safety.
By Betsy Finklea