Every year Thanksgiving brings people together for an all out feast celebrating the harvest, family and friends.
And every year many home cooks struggle to make the perfect turkey with all the trimmings. Forget worrying about a dry, over-cooked bird.
Your first concern should be preventing food-borne illness like salmonella, say the experts.
The rise of food culture and the popularity of The Food Network have certainly put proper food handling in the spotlight but even the most seasoned cooks can use a refresher.
“People are becoming more aware with food safety but there are always risks,” said Helga Wheddon, general manager at the Manitoba Turkey Producers.
The main risk is cross contamination or growth of salmonella bacteria, she says. Salmonella can cause moderate to serious gastrointestinal upset. Small children and people with compromised immunity may have more serious reactions, she says.
With that in mind, The Scene tapped Wheddon for her five essential turkey safety tips.
- Never thaw a frozen turkey on the counter. There are two options. Thaw packaged turkey in refrigerator in pan. (Thawing in refrigerator will take about five hours per pound.) Fill a cooler or large sink with cool water and submerge packaged turkey. (Thawing in cool water will take about one hour per pound.) Check temperature of water periodically making sure it remains cool. Replace water if necessary. Take the package off, immediately place in roaster and then right into oven.
- Like recently released recommendations for chicken handling, never rinse a raw turkey before cooking. Any bacteria present can splash on nearby surfaces, leading to further possible food contamination and risk.
- Stuff a turkey right before roasting. Do not stuff hours in advance as raw juices in turkey may contaminate stuffing. If stuffing doesn’t get hot enough while roasting, bacteria may be present.
- Roast a turkey at 325˚F. A stuffed turkey takes approximately 20 minute per pound to roast but that is just a guideline. Instead, use a meat thermometer placed in the inner thigh (not breast) to make sure the turkey is properly cooked. A stuffed turkey should reach 180˚F or 82˚C. An unstuffed turkey should reach 170˚F or 77˚C.
- To retain juiciness, rest turkey for 20 to 30 minutes after removing from oven. After that, remove meat from bones and serve. The time between removing turkey from oven and putting in fridge or freezer should be no longer than two to three hours. Cooked turkey will last a maximum of four days in fridge and three months in freezer.