When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey is the main attraction of the meal for many families.
Before the golden brown and juicy bird gets placed on the table there are some steps that need to be followed in order to ensure a safe and tasty meal, according to Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food safety specialist.
“To begin with, consumers need to decide if they want a fresh or frozen bird. There is no difference in the quality of fresh or frozen, although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives once you get them home,” Brown said. “If you opt for the frozen route you’ll probably be able to take advantage of special sales at your grocery store. When trying to decide how big of a bird to purchase, figure at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person. This will provide enough meat for the main meal, and leave some extra for turkey sandwiches, turkey and noodles or turkey tetrazzini later on.”
If you go with the frozen bird, remember you will need time for it to thaw. You should base the thawing time on 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of whole turkey. Ideally consumers should buy the turkey far enough in advance to thaw it in the refrigerator, with an additional day or two built into the timeline. Never thaw the turkey on the counter.
Brown suggests that an alternative method for thawing the bird in the refrigerator is thawing it in cold water.
“Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest and will result in the best finished product, however, the turkey can be thawed in cold water,” she said. “Leave the bird in the original packaging and place it in a clean and sanitized sink or pan and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Using this method, you should plan on the turkey taking about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. You will need to cook the turkey immediately. Do not refreeze it.”
It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove carefully with tongs or a fork.
Once the turkey is thawed, remove the neck and giblets from the body cavities and keep everything refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below until it is ready to be cooked.
When it comes to cooking the meals main menu item, whether you like it roasted or deep fried, the key thing to remember is to cook the turkey to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to use a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the thigh. Roasting an 8 pound to 12 pound turkey at 325 degrees should take about 3 hours. Stuffed turkeys will take longer, but it is recommended to cook your stuffing in a casserole dish instead. Use a thermometer in the stuffing, too. It should also reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the meal is over, be sure to refrigerate leftovers right away. Temperature and time cause bacteria to grow, so it is a good idea to check the temperature of your refrigerator and make sure it is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Reheat cooked leftovers to 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Sauces, soups and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil. Even when refrigerated properly, leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within three to four days.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to share a special meal with your family. Taking a few extra steps will help ensure it is prepared and stored properly for maximum food safety.