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Safety first when preparing holiday turkey

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many of you are making preparations for the perfect turkey dinner, complete with all the fixings.
Whatever your definition of “perfect” is, make sure you also include safety. Let’s make sure your Tom Turkey is not only tasty and juicy but also free from any harmful bacteria. Below you will find tips for the perfect turkey from start to finish.
Fresh or frozen?
You may choose to buy either; it depends on your personal preference. If you decide to purchase a fresh turkey, you will want to purchase it one to two days before you plan to cook it. The turkey should be stored in the refrigerator until you plan to cook it. You may want to place it in a pan to catch any juices that may leak.
A frozen turkey, on the other hand, may be purchased several months in advance and can be kept in the freezer for up to one year. However, you will have to plan when you will thaw it.
Thawing
Refrigerator ó Keep the turkey in its original wrap in a tray in the bottom section of the refrigerator. Allow about 24 hours of defrost time for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. Example: a 20-pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to thaw. Do not thaw on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth.
Cold water ó Submerge the bird in its original wrapper in a deep sink of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.
Allow 30 minutes per pound to defrost. Example: a 20-pound turkey will take 8 to 10 hours to thaw. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not use warm or hot water and do not refreeze.
Microwave ó Make sure your microwave oven is large enough to hold the turkey, especially if the oven has a rotating tray. Check manufacturer’s instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Caution: Microwave defrosting is irregular, creating hot spots, which may encourage bacterial growth. Cook the turkey immediately after defrosting. Do not store in the refrigerator for cooking later.
Cooking
There are many ways to cook your Thanksgiving turkey, whether you are planning the traditional method of roasting in the oven, electric roaster oven, grilling (covered charcoal grill and covered gas grill, smoking, deep-fat frying, microwaving or cooking the turkey in a pressure cooker.
Please make sure your turkey is completely thawed. Also remember to remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.
Roasting
– Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F.
– Place your turkey or turkey breast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
– For optimum safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. For more even cooking, it is recommended you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole.
– A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
– If your turkey has a “pop-up” temperature indicator, it is recommended that you also check the internal temperature of the turkey in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast with a food thermometer. The minimum internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F for safety.
– For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.
For more turkey basics, visit the USDA Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education/usda_meat_&_poultry_hotline/index.asp, or you may also call the USDA Meat & Poultry hot line at 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854.
Contact Toi N. Degree, family and consumer education agent, Rowan County Cooperative Extension Service, at 704-216-8970 or e-mail toi_degree@ncsu.edu.

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