Whether a seasoned chef or a novice preparing your first family meal, be aware of safety issues when thawing, preparing, stuffing and cooking your turkey.
Within the last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has investigated outbreaks of foodborne illness that were caused by bacteria in spinach, peanut butter, frozen pizza, frozen pot pies, and frozen beef patties. Many consumers are now more aware of the ongoing importance of food safety.
CDC is a food safety partner with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry. The FSIS has assembled preparation tips intended to serve as safety reminders to those who are already familiar with meat and poultry preparation safety and as guidelines for the first-time chef.
When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to adequate temperature.
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, 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."
Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to those other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch 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. Follow the FSIS' steps to safely prepare, cook, remove, and refrigerate stuffing; Spanish language instructions are available.
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
Following these cooking guidelines can help you prepare a safe family dinner that everyone will enjoy. For more information on Food Preparation, please check out our Health Matters Newsletter!