I get a lot of emails from people asking food safety questions. The latest was about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and its centerpiece – a turkey.
So, I turned to someone who knows, Beth Weiss of USA Today. Here are the high lights:
1. Thaw it in the refrigerator:
You, of course, thawed the turkey in the refrigerator, not in a sink of warm water, didn’t you? Even though it took three or four days. If you didn’t and you’re staring at 15 pounds of frozen gobbler, don’t plop it in a sink full of hot water to thaw. The biocontamination possibilities give food-safety experts the heebie-jeebies.
2. Step away from the sink, and no one will get hurt:
You don’t need to wash your turkey before you roast it, and doing so can be dangerous. A British study found that washing poultry in the sink can spray bacteria up to 3 feet away. And with one in 50 turkeys estimated to be contaminated with salmonella, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food-safety inspectors, you don’t want a mist of turkey juice on your relish platter.
3. Cook the Sh&^ out of it:
Given this contamination rate, the chef’s job is to keep the raw turkey juices away from anything that isn’t going to be cooked to 165 degrees, the temperature required to kill disease-causing bugs. “The heat will take care of whatever might be on the surface of the turkey,” says Howard Seltzer, national education adviser for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “The magic number is 165,” he says. “Stick the thermometer into the breast and then both thighs, and make sure that that bird is 165 throughout.” That, of course, requires a meat thermometer, preferably one of the newer instant-read thermometers. They’re usually for sale near the turkeys at the supermarket.
4. Put leftovers away and heat them before eating them (well most of them anyway):
Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables all can sit out for about two hours before they need to be refrigerated. If they need to be warmed up, a quick stint in the microwave works. Stuffing, if it’s got meat in it or was cooked inside the turkey, should be at 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
As my daughter used to say when she was two – “Happy Fooding!”