According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is estimated that over 46 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving.
As people rush to prepare and serve all the poultry and side dishes, cooking mistakes can be made and guests can get sick. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of foodborne illness outbreaks involving poultry in the United States stem from mistakes made in food handling and preparation or inadequate cooking.
One study reviewed outbreaks that were reported to the United States Foodborne Outbreak Surveillance System between 1998 and 2012, and of the 1,114 outbreaks, 279 were linked to poultry—representing “the largest number of outbreaks , illnesses and hospitalizations’. “
Luckily, we’ve put together a few tips to help keep your vacation germ-free.
Wash your hands – not the turkey.
The USDA does not recommend that consumers wash their turkeys in the kitchen sink. However, according to an FDA food safety survey, as many as 68% of consumers still do. Those who wash their turkeys in the sink risk spreading bacteria up to 3 feet around the kitchen, potentially contaminating the environment. Washing poultry does not eliminate bacteria; to kill the bacteria, you must cook the turkey adequately to the correct internal temperature.
what you should Know
Mistakes made during the handling and preparation of poultry, especially turkeys, can lead to foodborne illness. This is a serious concern during Thanksgiving when large numbers of turkeys are consumed.
The USDA advises against washing turkeys in the kitchen sink, as this can spread bacteria into the kitchen environment.
The USDA recommends cooking the stuffing separately from the turkey to ensure it reaches a safe temperature. However, if tradition calls for stuffing the turkey, it’s critical to use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing reaches 165°F.
Thaw your turkey safely.
The CDC emphasizes that there are 3 safe ways to thaw your turkey: in the refrigerator, in a sink filled with cold water that is changed at 30-minute intervals, or in the microwave. As long as your turkey remains frozen in the freezer, it is safe, but when you thaw your turkey, it must be thawed at a safe temperature. You should never let the turkey thaw on the counter, because when left out for more than 2 hours, the temperature of the turkey can become dangerous. Once the temperature reaches what the CDC calls the “danger zone,” 40°F to 140°F, bacteria will rapidly grow.
Should you stuff the turkey?
According to the USDA, no; the safest way to cook the stuffing is in a separate container. Although the turkey may have been cooked to the correct temperature, the stuffing inside may not have reached the same safe temperature that would eliminate all bacteria. However, if your tradition is to stuff your turkey, the CDC recommends putting the stuffing in the turkey just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to check that the center of the filling has reached 165°F. Also, after removing the turkey from the oven, you should wait 20 minutes before removing the stuffing from the turkey cavity, which gives it time to cook a little longer.
Cook your turkey safely.
It’s important to make sure your turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature, which you can measure using a food thermometer. The oven should be set to at least 325°F. The turkey should be completely thawed and placed breast side up in a 2- to 2 ½-inch-thick roasting pan, according to the CDC. While the turkey is cooking, the USDA recommends testing for doneness in the following 3 areas: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh. All 3 areas should be 165°F.
Remember the 2 hour rule.
Do not leave any food on the counter for more than 2 hours because bacteria – such as Clostridium perfringens-it will grow. C perfringens, according to the CDC, is the second most common cause of food poisoning. In fact, outbreaks of this bacteria most often occur around Thanksgiving and Christmas and are associated with foods that are typically served during the holiday season. That’s why it’s important to put all leftovers in the refrigerator, which should be set at no more than 40°F. Leftovers should not be refrigerated for more than 4 days.
For additional information on food safety tips, visit FoodSafety.gov.