Holiday Food Safety Hints 

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Can you believe Thanksgiving is here? If you are like me there are probably dozens of items left to complete. Let’s not add “get everyone sick from a mishandled bird” to your to do list! View our Holiday Food Safety Hints Video or check out our quick hints below to keep the stomach medications off your grocery list. 

Why is handling the holiday bird such a big deal? Campylobacter can be found in close to half of commercially available poultry, but will only make you sick if you mishandle the turkey. Mishandling food allows pathogens to grow to a toxic level which can then make you sick. When cooking for large groups of people the potential to mishandle food increases. Let’s start at the beginning. 

Thawing Hints: 

Don’t leave it on the counter at room temp. Leaving the bird at room temperature for more than 4 hours can cause bacteria spores to grow in numbers large enough to get you sick. 

Do thaw your bird in the refrigerator on a dish on the bottom shelf to prevent contaminating your refrigerator or other food. Below are some times for refrigerator thawing:  

  • For 4 to 12 pounds of turkey,  thaw one to three days.
  • For 12 to 16 pounds of turkey, thaw three to four days.
  • For 16 to 20 pounds of turkey, thaw four to five days.
  • For 20 to 24 pounds of turkey, thaw five to six days.

Do thaw your bird in a water bath. When you are crunched for time this method is very helpful. You can also use a running water bath in your sink to make sure the temperature of the water does not rise above 40℉ or change the water every 30 minutes. Here are some water bath times to help you thaw your turkey safely. 

  • For 4 to 12 pounds of turkey, thaw two to six hours.
  • For 12 to 16 pounds of turkey, thaw six to eight hours.
  • For 16 to 20 pounds of turkey, thaw eight to ten hours.
  • For 20 to 24 pounds of turkey, thaw ten to twelve hours.

Bird prep:

Don’t give your bird a bath in the kitchen sink. If you feel the need to clean your turkey use wet paper towels and throw them away once you are done cleaning your bird. 

Do wash your hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops prior to cooking. 

Don’t use the same unclean cutting boards for raw meat and produce. 

Do use separate cutting boards or clean and sanitize between raw meat and produce.

Don’t marinate your bird or any other food on the counter. 

Do marinate food in the refrigerator. The sauce used to marinate raw meat, poultry, or seafood should not be used on cooked foods unless it is boiled just before using.

Cooking 

Don’t cook your bird with stuffing inside it. 

Do use aromatics such as carrots, celery, or herbs inside your bird and discard them after cooking. If you want a stuffed turkey, add the already cooked stuffing to the already cooked turkey. 

Don’t assume you can judge the bird’s doneness by looking at the meat. 

Do use a thermometer and take readings in multiple locations, avoiding the bones and open cavity of the bird. Your turkey can be safely consumed once the temperature reaches 165℉ however some recommendations can be as high as 180℉. This can dry out the light meat. 

Leftovers

Don’t leave it on the counter for more than 2 hours. 

Do separate into manageable amounts before storing to decrease cooling time. You can use plastic storage containers or ziplock bags. The less you stack meat on top of each other the shorter the cooling time. 

Don’t leave leftovers in the fridge for too long. 

Do eat leftovers within 4 days. 

For more information on preparing your turkey or food safety contact Olivia Patchel via email olivia_patchel@ncsu.edu or phone 252-232-2261.