‘Tis the season for families to come together around the table and share a special meal. Unfortunately, it is also the season for spreading germs and bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Instead of spending time in the bathroom this holiday season, let’s spend time with our friends and family. Prevent food poisoning by following these food safety tips.
Safely Thaw the Turkey
There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey. All turkeys should be thawed in their unopened bag on a tray or plate, as the turkey can sometimes leak when thawing.
- Option 1: The first and best option is to put the frozen turkey in the refrigerator to thaw. The USDA recommends the turkey stay in the refrigerator for 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds it weighs to ensure it is fully thawed. For example, a 15-pound turkey should thaw in the fridge for 72 hours (3 days) before cooking.
- Option 2: The second way to safely thaw the turkey is to submerge it in cold water. Cover the whole turkey (still in its bag) in water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
- Option 3: The third way to safely thaw the turkey is to put it in the microwave and use the defrost function according to its weight (the weight can be found on the bag).
No matter which option you choose, DO NOT thaw the turkey on the counter or at room temperature! That is the quickest way for bacteria to grow.
Clean, Clean, and Clean Again
It is important that your hands, utensils, and cutting surfaces stay clean and free of bacteria. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, or the time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” two times. If you are going to hand wash items such as plates, utensils, or cutting boards that touch raw food, wash them separately from those items that touched cooked food. If you are going to wash items in the dishwasher, you can place items that touched raw and cooked food together.
Do not wash your turkey! It does not need to be given a rinse like fruits or vegetables. Washing a turkey can cause bacteria to spread in the sink and splash on surfaces around the sink. These bacteria are the ones that can cause food poisoning.
What about Those Giblets?
When preparing your turkey for cooking, determine whether you want to throw away the bag of giblets or cook them. No matter what you decide, remove the bag of giblets before stuffing and/or cooking the turkey. If you choose to cook the giblets, remove them from the bag and prepare them according to your favorite recipe.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
As portrayed in movies and magazines, the “model turkey” has a golden-brown color. But, did you know that the color of the turkey does not necessarily mean it has been cooked to a safe temperature of 165 °F? Do not rely on color to determine if the turkey has been cooked to the magic number. A meat thermometer should always be used to determine the temperature. Never use a fever thermometer to check the temperature of your turkey. Take the temperature in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the thigh, and the wing joint. All three places should be at least 165 ºF.
How To: Leftovers
Put leftovers — if you’re lucky to have any — in the refrigerator within 2 hours of being cooked. The earlier you can get leftovers into the refrigerator, the lower the risk of getting food poisoning. Leftovers can be saved in the fridge for 3-4 days after being cooked. They are safe in the freezer for 2-6 months.
Who to Call
During the months of November and December, there is a hotline for all things turkey: 1-800-BUTTERBALL or 1-800-288-8372. The company that oversees this hotline also has a helpful website, where you can find recipes and more information on all things turkey.
As always, if you suspect food poisoning or another type of exposure or poisoning, call the experts! Do not google for answers or wait for symptoms to arise. The Maryland Poison Center is a free, confidential, 24/7 service. Even on Thanksgiving, you can reach a poison specialist. Just call 1-800-222-1222.