TMH Living Well: Safety tips for preparing your Thanksgiving feast
November 21, 2014
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so it's time to brush up on some food safety tips.
Quick quiz: What's the safest way to thaw a turkey? How long do you cook it?
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.
"During the holidays, it's easy to forget food on the counter once the socializing begins, but the tasty creamed spinach dip and other foods need to be refrigerated before two hours," said Janet Lott, wellness coordinator with The Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic.
Thawing the turkey
It's not every day that we roast a turkey, so if you have some questions, that's understandable. Let's start with thawing.
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According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Education website, there are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: In the fridge, in water or in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey on the counter or in the trunk of your Aunt Frida's car.
Thawing in the fridge takes patience and planning ahead. It takes about 24 hours for each 5 pounds for a turkey to thaw in the fridge. That means a 16- to 20-pound turkey will take four to five days.
You can also 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. Your 16- to 20-pound turkey will be thawed in eight to 10 hours.
Lastly, you can thaw your turkey in the microwave. Once you thaw it this way it must be cooked immediately.
"How you prepare your holiday meal is important," Lott said. "Remember to wash your hands, clean your cooking surfaces and separate raw meat from other foods."
Stuffing the turkey
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 very last minute to mix the wet and dry ingredients and once stuffed, cook the turkey immediately.
Resist the urge to get the bird ready the night before. Mixing warm, cooked veggies, 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.
Finally, when you do cook the turkey use a thermometer to ensure the stuffing reaches a minimum of 165 degrees — the temperature needed to destroy bacteria.
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 4.5 to 5 hours. Stuffed birds will take a half-hour or so longer. If you don't have a meat thermometer, get one and place it as far inside the bird as possible to measure 165 degrees.
Pumpkin pie and leftovers
Can you leave that pumpkin pie out on your counter? If it's store-bought and has preservatives, yes, for a while.
If you make it from scratch, no. According to the USDA, any pie with egg in the filling should not be left out.
As for leftovers? Clean up well before two hours to avoid spoiling.
"The longer food sits on the counter the more it is susceptible it is to microbial growth, including that pumpkin pie," Lott said.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig – improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.