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Food safety tips critical for preparing Thanksgiving turkey

by Special to The Commercial | November 22, 2021 at 3:55 a.m.
A Thanksgiving turkey is shown in Concord, N.H., in this Nov. 2, 2009, file photo. Food safety experts say raw turkeys shouldn’t be rinsed, since that can spread harmful bacteria. Cooking should kill any germs. But bacteria can still spread in other ways, so washing and sanitizing hands and surfaces is still important. (AP/Larry Crowe, File)

Thanksgiving is just days away, and as people prepare their holiday meals for friends and family, it is essential that they properly cook the turkey, said Teresa Henson of the at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

"Undercooking a turkey can lead to severe problems during your Thanksgiving gatherings, and that problem is a foodborne illness or food poison," said Henson, UAPB Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator.

"To prevent such issues from occurring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following food safety tips for preparing your turkey and other poultry for Thanksgiving and year-round," she said in a news release.


Thaw your turkey safely.

Never thaw your turkey by leaving it out on the counter. A thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe. Bacteria can multiply in the "danger zone," between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.

Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator in a container; in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink or cold water (change the water every 30 minutes); or in the microwave (follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions).

Do not wash or rinse your raw turkey. Washing your turkey can make you and your family sick. The turkey juices can spread and contaminate the kitchen, countertops, utensils and food.

Handle your turkey the right way. Raw poultry can contaminate anything near with harmful bacteria. Follow the four steps to food safety -- clean, separate, cook and chill -- to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food, family and friends.

Wash hands, utensils.

Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey.

Use a separate cutting board for raw turkey.

Never place cooked food or fresh produce on a plate, cutting board or other surfaces that previously held raw turkey.

Wash cutting boards, utensils, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing the turkey and before you prepare the next item.

Cook carefully, check temperature.

Cook stuffing thoroughly. If you are serving stuffing, cook the stuffing separately from the turkey in a casserole dish; this makes it easy to be sure it is thoroughly cooked correctly. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, put the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking. With the stuffing, use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165 degrees F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165 degrees F and may then cause food poisoning. If you cook stuffing in the turkey, wait 20 minutes after taking the turkey out of the oven before removing the stuffing; this allows it to cook a little more.

Cook your turkey thoroughly. Set the oven temperature to at least 325 degrees F. Place the completely thawed turkey in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. Use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest part of the breast, thigh and wing joint. Even if your turkey has a pop-up temperature indicator, you should still use a food thermometer to check that the turkey is safely cooked. Make sure you let the turkey sit for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

Take care of holiday leftovers. Refrigerate leftovers at 40 degrees F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide significant cuts of meat, such as turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they can cool quickly. Reheat leftovers to least 165 degrees F before serving.

To learn more about food safety, using a food thermometer and internal food temperatures, visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at

Source: Food Safety Tips for Your Holiday Turkey. (May 5, 2021). Retrieved from


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