Let’s Talk Turkey: Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

By Beverly Jackey RD, Community Nutritionist

Thanksgiving is just around the corner so to keep your turkey safe and your guests too, here are some helpful hints from USDA’s Food and Inspection Service website.

 Purchasing

Purchase a large enough turkey to allow 1 pound per person. Buy fresh turkeys 1-2 days before you cook them. Frozen turkeys can be purchased months ahead and kept in the freezer indefinitely; however, cook within one year for best quality.

Thawing

There are three ways to thaw your turkey safely: in cold water, in the microwave oven or in the refrigerator, which is the method used most often. Allow 4-5 days to safely thaw a 15-20 pound turkey in your refrigerator. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or pan to catch juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

Roasting

Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.
Set oven temperature no lower than 325 °F. Place your turkey on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

Stuffing a turkey is not recommended, however; if you choose to stuff your turkey, mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the turkey cavities loosely.

Cook the turkey immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 °F.

If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey at the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer for a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F for safety.

Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes for the juices to set so the turkey will carve more easily. Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavities.

For great tasting turkey, follow these tips: 

  • Tuck wing tips under the shoulders of the bird for more even cooking. This is referred to as “akimbo.” 
  • For a moist turkey add ½ cup of water or broth to the bottom of the pan and baste every 30 minutes.
  • Place a lid or a tent of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the turkey for the first 1 to 1 ½ hours. This allows for maximum heat circulation, keeps the turkey moist, and reduces oven splatter.
  • To prevent overbrowning, foil may also be placed over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.

REMEMBER! Always wash hands, utensils, the sink, and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices with soap and water.

For more information on other methods and times for cooking a turkey and storing leftovers, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline  or visit www.fsis.usda.gov  

The Food Bank of Delaware family wishes you all a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

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