Time and temperature keys to turkey safety

By: Clemson University Cooperative Extension

(Columbia) November 13, 2006 - The "T's" are all important when it comes to turkey and Thanksgiving safety. The "T's" are time and temperature.  Time and temperature come into play when thawing, preparing, cooking and serving a turkey.

Since bacteria love the temperature danger zone - between 40°F and 140°F - consumers must be careful about the time they let turkey stay in this zone. Two hours is the maximum -- from the time it comes from the store to your refrigerator or from the time it comes out of the oven to the time leftovers are stored in the refrigerator.

The safest way to thaw a frozen bird is in the refrigerator. That will take one day for every four pounds of weight. A 12-pound turkey will take three full days to thaw. Be sure you place it on a tray on a low shelf in the refrigerator to keep juices from dripping and contaminating other foods with bacteria.

You can thaw a turkey in fresh cold water, if you allow 30 minutes per pound of weight and change the water every 30 minutes.

Roast a fresh turkey as soon as possible, but no later than the "use by" date on the package. After all, a turkey is perishable goods, and time is the enemy for quality and good taste.

A wholesome Thanksgiving meal begins with taking the time for good sanitation. Always wash your hands, work surfaces and utensils touched by raw poultry and its juices with hot, soapy water.  And, don't forget to give the same treatment to the cutting board and knife used to prepare the turkey for roasting.

Use paper towels, not cloth, to pat your turkey dry and to wipe up juices from kitchen surfaces. Don't give bacteria the time to hang around your kitchen in a cozy cloth towel.

Time and temperature are also critical when it comes to cooking your turkey.  For the safest and tastiest preparation of your bird, roast your turkey at 325oF.  Avoid cooking instructions calling for cooking the turkey at a super low oven temperature all night long.  This type of preparation allows the turkey to remain too long in the temperature danger zone, and bacteria could grow to unsafe levels.

Use a meat thermometer to determine when the bird is done. The thermometer should read 165°F when inserted deep in the thigh. The juices from the thigh muscle should run clear, not pink.  For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.  If you have stuffed the turkey, the thermometer should give you a reading of no less than 165°F in the center of the stuffing.

Do not let the leftover turkey sit around after dinner. Remember, the time between cooking and putting leftovers away should be no more than two hours. Store the turkey, stuffing, gravy and broth in separate, shallow packages in the refrigerator or freezer.

Eat refrigerated leftovers within three days. For best flavor and texture, use frozen stuffing within one month and frozen turkey within two months.

For more information on Thanksgiving meal preparation or food safety, contact the Clemson University Extension Service or try the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center on the web 24 hrs. per day at http://hgic.clemson.edu.

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