It’s almost Thanksgiving – the biggest meal I cook all year. I always get a little anxious when I think about feeding so many people – What kind of turkey should I buy? Fresh or frozen? Stuffed or unstuffed? How do I store my turkey? And how long should I cook it to make sure it’s safe to eat? The last thing I want is for someone to get sick!
Here are four tips (courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control) to help you safely prepare your Thanksgiving turkey meal.
1. Thaw Your Turkey Safely.
- In the refrigerator in a container, or
- In a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water (change the water every 30 minutes), or
- In the microwave, following the microwave oven manufacturer’s instructions.
- Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
2. Handle Your Turkey the Right Way
- Raw poultry can contaminate anything it touches with harmful bacteria.
- Follow the four steps to food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill —to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food, family, and friends.
3. Cook Stuffing Thoroughly
- Cooking stuffing separately from the turkey in a casserole dish makes it easy to be sure it is thoroughly cooked.
- If you cook stuffing inside the turkey, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking.
- With either cooking method, use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing’s center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and may then cause food poisoning.
If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the bird out of the oven before removing the stuffing; this allows it to cook a little more.
4. Cook Your Turkey Thoroughly
- Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you should still use a food thermometer to check that it is safely cooked.
- Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.
You can find more holiday food safety information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.