DUPAGE COUNTY—Thanksgiving is Thursday and the DuPage County Health Department urges residents to handle food safely to prevent foodborne illnesses. The improper thawing, storing, cooking and serving of roast turkey, along with improper or lack of hand washing, can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria like salmonella.
The Health Department offers these tips for preparing a Thanksgiving turkey safely:
• If you plan to buy a fresh turkey, do not buy it too soon. Fresh, unfrozen poultry should be kept in the refrigerator no more than two days before cooking.
• Cooks preparing a frozen turkey should make their purchase in advance to allow thawing. Frozen turkeys that have been thawed should be cooked within four days.
• Thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for each five pounds of turkey. A 20-pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. Hint: Remove neck and giblets from inside the turkey as soon as possible to hasten thawing. Leave the frozen turkey in its original wrapper and place it in a deep tray to catch any juices that may leak from the package and store ready-to-eat food above or away from the turkey. Bacteria in meat juices can cross-contaminate other foods that will be eaten without further cooking or that are already cooked, possibly causing foodborne illness.
• If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you may thaw it in cold water, provided that the turkey is in a leak-proof packaging, it is submerged and the water is changed every half-hour. Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey to thaw in cold water.
• Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw poultry. Wash all knives, cutting boards and utensils after using for raw poultry. Remind guests to wash their hands (or use sanitizer) before and after eating to prevent the spread of illness.
• Read and follow the cooking directions on the label. Cook turkey until it is done (165°F). Do not slow cook overnight at low temperatures or partially cook. Some turkeys come with a pop-up thermometer. It should be used only as a guide to doneness. Take the temperature with a meat thermometer to be sure the temperature is over 165°F.
• Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.
• Eat the meal as soon as it is prepared. Do not leave leftovers out on the counter or table after dinner. Cut the meat off the bones and put it in shallow containers in the refrigerator.
• Reheat all leftovers to 165°F. (Use your meat thermometer.) Gravy should be brought to a rolling boil.
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