At Thanksgiving, we gather with family and friends to appreciate the gift of each other. Traditionally, this celebration involves lots of food – typically turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Turkey, in particular, can carry a high risk for food poisoning. Studies have shown that more than two-thirds of birds purchased contain salmonella or campylobacter bacteria in their raw state. Proper thawing, cooking and storage will make the difference between catching the “stomach flu” or enjoying leftovers later. “Stomach flu” is actually food poisoning, with symptoms and their severity varying from person to person.
To ensure an enjoyable holiday gathering, follow these few basic guidelines.
Selecting a turkey
You will need to buy the correct size bird several days in advance of the holiday.
Whole bird 1 pound per person
Turkey breast ¾ pound per person
Boneless turkey breast ½ pound per person
Stuffed frozen turkey 1¼ pounds per person
Thawing the bird
In the refrigerator, place the frozen bird in its original wrapper (40 degrees or below) and allow about 24 hours per 5 pounds. After the turkey is thawed, it can remain in fridge for one to two days.
Turkey size Number of days
4-12 pounds 1-3 days
12-16 pounds 3-4 days
16-20 pounds 4-5 days
20-24 pounds 5-6 days
Your turkey can be thawed faster using cold water. To do this submerge the bird in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes per pound. Please note that new guidelines recommend that you do not rinse the bird under running water before cooking. This is to prevent spattering of the bacteria to other surface areas.
Cooking your turkey
If you choose to stuff the bird, stuff it loosely, however, cooking the stuffing in a dish beside the bird is the safer, recommended procedure.
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and place the bird (or breast) on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Add about 1 to 1 ½ cups of water to the bottom of the roasting pan. The cooking times below are based on a bird that is not stuffed. If the bird is stuffed, use the upper time recommendation.
Cover your roasting pan with a lid or a tent of foil for the first 1 to 1½ hours to allow for maximum heat while keeping the bird moist.
Cooking birds larger than 24 pounds is not recommended because of uneven cooking temperatures and lack of maneuverability in the oven. It is recommended that you split jumbo birds in half before cooking.
Turkey size Hours to roast
8-12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12-14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14-18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18-20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20-24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours
Do not depend on the “pop-up” gauge, as this tends to overcook your bird.
Remove the bird from the oven and cover it with a tent of foil to let it rest for 20 minutes. This allows moisture to be reabsorbed and results in a firmer bird to carve. The bird will continue to cook a small amount during this time of “rest.”
Your bird’s final safe serving temperature is 165 degrees. A thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature by checking it regularly in the innermost part of the thigh and again in the thickest part of the breast. If using an instant-read thermometer, insert it at an angle of 1 to 2½ inches deep.
Cut the leftover meat into smaller pieces and refrigerate it in shallow containers within two hours of removal from the oven. Leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy can be kept in the fridge for three to four days. Beyond that, it should be frozen.
If you have additional questions, call me at 759-9352 or visit this U.S. Department of Agriculture website about food safety http://1.usa.gov/11fwMTc.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.