Health officials offer tips for Thanksgiving food safety

By using the correct process to thaw, prepare, cook, store and reheat turkey, you can reduce the risk of food poisoning for you and your family.
Aaron Krause
Nov 21, 2012

As the holiday season approaches, the Huron County General Health District reminds cooks to keep their families safe by properly preparing their Thanksgiving meal.

By using the correct process to thaw, prepare, cook, store and reheat turkey, you can reduce the risk of food poisoning for you and your family.

There are three ways to safely thaw a frozen turkey:

n In a shallow pan placed on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator

n In the sink or pan, making sure the turkey is completely submerged

n In the microwave

Thawing at room temperature is dangerous because bacteria grow rapidly on food when left in the "Danger Zone" between 41 F and 135F.

The amount of time required to fully thaw a turkey depends on its size. To safely thaw a turkey in the refrigerator, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends allowing 24 hours per five pounds of meat. To safely thaw in the sink or pan, change the water every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes thawing per pound. If you plan to thaw in the microwave, you will need to refer to the owner's manual for proper power level and minutes per pound.

Before cooking, the turkey must be completely thawed and the oven must be heated to 325F or higher. Cooking times will also vary based on size and stuffing inside the turkey. The crucial step in the cooking process is to ensure that the turkey and stuffing reach an internal temperature of 165F or higher to kill harmful bacteria. Check the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer.

As with any meal, it is important to make sure that all work surfaces, utensils and hands are properly cleaned before preparing any food. This is essential because bacteria can live on these surfaces and can contaminate your food.

Utensils and hands that touch raw turkey must be cleaned before they are used on other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Be sure to use separate cutting boards for raw meats, produce and cooked foods.

Cooked turkey should not be left outside the refrigerator for more than two hours. Refrigerate in small portions so that it can cool down quickly. To warm leftovers, reheat to an internal temperature of 165F. Refrigerated leftovers can be served for up to 3 to 4 days after the food was cooked. Any food that is left after that point should be thrown away. Frozen leftovers can be kept for 2 to 6 months.

Here are some additional tips for a happy, healthy Thanksgiving:

n While stuffing the turkey is traditional, it is recommended that stuffing be cooked separately to ensure even greater food safety

n Never wash the raw turkey. Doing so can cause bacteria to be spread in the sink and splattered onto work areas.

n Remove giblets and cook separately.

n Do not rely on the pop-up device to ensure proper temperature. Always use a food thermometer.

n Don't forget to refrigerate other foods such as pies and dishes that contain milk or egg products. As a rule of thumb, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.