Living Well: Safety tips for preparing Thanksgiving feast
November 21, 2017
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and likely, your turkey is thawing in the refrigerator and, maybe, you still need to run to the store to purchase a final ingredient. Before you get deep into food preparation, it's a good idea to brush up on food safety tips. Quick quiz: How long do you cook a turkey? Why do you have to take extra precautions with stuffing? Can you leave your pumpkin pie out after baking? Read on for answers, and get a shot of confidence in safely preparing your holiday meal.
Thawing the turkey
It's not every day that we roast a turkey, so if you have questions, that's understandable. Let's start with thawing. According to the USDA Food Safety Education, there are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: In the refrigerator, in water and in the microwave. Never thaw a turkey on the counter or in the trunk of your Aunt Frida's car.
If you haven't thawed your turkey yet, you'll have to skip the refrigerator method, as it takes about 24 hours for each 5 pounds of total weight. Instead, put your bird in a leak-proof plastic bag and dunk it in cold tap water in the sink for a quicker thaw. It's best to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cool. Your 16- to 20-pound turkey will be thawed in 8 to 10 hours.
"The last option is thawing your turkey in the microwave, if it will fit. Once it is thawed, it's important to cook the turkey immediately," said Madysen Jourgensen, a dietetic intern who will become a registered dietitian for Memorial Regional Health once she passes her exams.
Stuffing the turkey
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Which way do you make stuffing? Do you cook it first, then stuff the bird? If so, you earn a safety star, and that goes for those who cook it in a pan, as well. Others like to stuff the bird with raw stuffing and bake it that way. That's OK, as long as you take extra precautions. Wait until the last minute to mix the wet and dry ingredients, and once it is stuffed, cook the turkey immediately. Resist the urge to get the bird ready the night before. Mixing warm, cooked vegetables, stock and eggs and filling the bird creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. It can take hours for the stuffing's temperature to drop below 40 degrees and out of the danger zone for spoiling.
"It's important to have a thermometer on hand to check the temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing. The stuffing must reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria that may be present and cause foodborne illness," Jourgensen said.
Roasting the turkey
It's finally time to pop the bird in the oven. Set your oven temperature to no less than 325 degrees. The general rule of thumb for how long to cook a turkey is 20 minutes per pound at 350 degrees. Here's how it breaks out: a 12 to 14 pound bird will take three to four hours, and a 20 to 24 pound bird will take four and a half to five hours. Stuffed birds will take about a half hour longer.
Pumpkin pie and leftovers
"Whether you can leave a pie on the counter depends on the type of pie. Pies that have filling with eggs or dairy (pumpkin, custard, cream pies) should not be left out on the counter for more than two hours. Fruit pies can typically be left out for 24 to 48 hours," Jourgensen said.
As for leftovers? Avoid leaving foods out longer than two hours, and make sure you reheat your leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, relax, and have a happy Thanksgiving.