In this season of thanks and giving, the last thing you want to share is food–borne illness.
As we fire up the ovens for Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials are investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is monitoring the outbreak. Several Jennie-O brand ground turkey products have been recalled, so the official word is to not eat, sell or serve Jennie-O ground turkey products.
For all of us with a bird defrosting in the refrigerator, the best defense against Salmonella begins in the kitchen. Simple tasks will go a long way in keeping you and your food safe during Turkey Day prep.
If your turkey is still frozen, thaw it in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes. Bacteria can grow rapidly between 40F and 140F, so poultry and meat should not be thawed on the counter because of uneven temperatures.
Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria. Salmonella can spread from one person to another and to other foods. To prevent that, wash your hands, but not the bird. Water spray spreads germs in raw poultry juices to other areas in the sink and up to 2 feet in the kitchen and to nearby foods.
Wash your hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils with warm, soapy water after they touch raw turkey. A good hand washing should last 20 seconds. If the day is hectic, use that time to center yourself and take some deep breaths.
A simple solution of 1 tablespoon unscented liquid bleach + 1 gallon of water is an effective sanitizer. Spray the solution onto surfaces and cutting boards, let stand a few minutes, then rinse and dry with clean paper towels.
Cooking turkey is what kills harmful germs. A food thermometer is the only way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. Turkey breasts, whole turkeys and ground poultry, including turkey burgers, casseroles and sausage, should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill bacteria.
For turkey breasts, place the thermometer in the thickest part. For whole turkeys, place in the thickest part of the inner thigh. Once the thigh has reached 165 °F, check the wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure the turkey has reached that safe 165°F. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook than an unstuffed one, but the stuffing inside should be 165°F. This can be tricky to coordinate so that the turkey doesn’t overcook while the stuffing is still heating. A casserole dish may be a better place for the stuffing.
Turkey roasting tips
If your roasting pan does not have a lid, place 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, place foil over the turkey after it reaches the desired color.
Though we plan, shop, cook and clean, it seems holiday meals are over in a flash. It’s OK to sit for a minute and thank the cook or pat yourself on the back. But the meal’s not yet over. After the feast, get the leftovers in the fridge. Any turkey, stuffing and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours should be thrown away. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3 to 4 days. If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months for best quality.
I wish you a delicious Thanksgiving, but if you have more questions? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-674-6854.