Thanksgiving turkey: How to safely prepare it

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Wednesday marks Thanksgiving Eve and millions of Americans are expected to gather for the Thursday holiday.

At the center of the table is likely a traditional turkey and Butterball – the largest producer of turkey products in the U.S. – said earlier this month that an online survey among 1,005 U.S. adults found that 85% of respondents are planning to celebrate with a turkey. 

But, before putting the turkey on the table, there are several steps to take to ensure the bird is safe to devour. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the turkey and its juice can be contaminated with germs that can make people sick. 

Turkey can contain Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and other germs, the agency said.

Frozen raw turkey should be stored in the freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit or below until it’s ready to thaw one to two days before cooking.

To properly thaw the turkey, keep it in its original wrapping and place it in a container before putting it in the refrigerator.

Allow for 24 hours of thawing for each four to five pounds of turkey. A turkey thawed in the refrigerator can remain there for one to two days before cooking.

To thaw a turkey in cold water, make sure it is in a leak-proof plastic bag, cover the turkey fully with cold tap water, change the water every 30 minutes and allow about 30 minutes of thawing for each pound of turkey.

A turkey in cold water must be cooked immediately after thawing, as well as a turkey thawed in the microwave.

A turkey should never be thawed on the counter, because when a turkey stays out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe even if the center is still frozen. 

“Germs can grow rapidly in the ‘danger zone’ between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit” the CDC notes.

Chefs should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling turkey, use a separate cutting board for raw turkey, never place cooked food or fresh produce on a surface that held raw turkey and wash cutting boards utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing raw turkey and before you prepare the next item.

In addition, the CDC has recommended against washing turkey or chicken since 2005, as poultry juices can spread easily in the kitchen.

To roast a turkey in the oven, the temperature should be set to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

The completely thawed turkey should be placed in a roasting pan two to two-and-a-half inches deep, with cooking times depending on the weight of the turkey.

“Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe minimum cooking temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit,” the agency wrote.

The turkey should stand 20 minutes before its insides are removed.

Leftover turkey should be refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder within two hours of cooking to prevent food poisoning and all leftovers should be heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Cooked turkey and dishes made with turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days or can be frozen to store longer.

Leftovers should always be put in the fridge within one to two hours if exposed to temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

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