With the holidays upon us, many Idahoans will be preparing holiday meals for their family and friends. The holidays are usually a joyous occasion, but if the meal is not properly prepared it could be a source of foodborne disease and result in a distressing time.
To help assure that your family and guests have a safe holiday, follow these simple food safety tips:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing any food product.
- Use two cutting boards and two knives: one for preparing raw meat, poultry and fish, and the other for cutting cooked food or preparing salads.
- Keep raw food away from vegetables and side dishes that will not be cooked.
- Make sure working areas and surfaces, utensils and plates are also clean and sanitized.
- Avoid wiping your hands that have touched raw food with dish towels.
- Buy only government inspected meat and poultry products, and check the “sell by” date on all food purchases. Never buy products if the expiration date has passed.
Thawing of Turkey
- To thaw the turkey, place it in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below) in its original wrapper on a tray in the bottom section of the refrigerator.
- Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days.
- If you forget to thaw the turkey or don’t have room in the refrigerator for thawing, you can submerge the turkey in its wrapper in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey. Cook turkey immediately after thawing.
- Never thaw the turkey on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth at the surface even thought the interior may still be chilled.
Stuffing the Turkey
- Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead, and the turkey should not be stuffed until ready to cook.
- Remove the giblet bag from inside the turkey before stuffing.
- Precook the stuffing, so it will reach the optimum temperature before the turkey is overcooked.
- Stuffing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Stuff the turkey loosely because the stuffing will expand as it is cooked in the turkey. Do not use more than 1/2 to 3/4 cups of stuffing per pound of turkey. If you are cooking a 16 pound turkey, use no more than 8-12 cups of stuffing.
Cooking the Turkey
- Read and follow the cooking directions on the label.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when the turkey is done. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the turkey thigh. Dark meat of the turkey takes longer to cook than any other part. The turkey is done when the thermometer reaches at least 165 degrees F.
- Do not slow cook overnight at low temperatures. Cooking a turkey a temperature below 325 degrees allows harmful bacteria to multiply.
- For an unstuffed turkey that is 8-12 pounds allow about three hours to cook. If it is a stuffed turkey allow 3 to 3 ½ hours to cook.
Follow these simple steps to help assure that your family and guests have a safe holiday. For more information on food safety, please visit Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s website at siphidaho.org or visit USDA’s website at fsis.usda.gov.