Baton Rouge, La. – While gatherings may be much smaller this holiday season because of the pandemic, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain, D.V.M., is reminding everyone to take proper precautions against foodborne illnesses, such as Salmonella, when preparing your Thanksgiving holiday meals.
“Anytime you’re handling raw food, you run the risk of getting sick if the food is not prepared properly,” said Strain. “Thoroughly cooking your turkey and keeping surfaces clean will prevent illness.”
Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) on how to safely prepare food this Thanksgiving:
Tip 1: Don’t Wash That Turkey.
The USDA does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.
Tip 2: Use the refrigerator, the cold-water method or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey.
There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave’s owner’s manual. Cold water and microwave thawing can also be used if your bird did not entirely defrost in the refrigerator.
Tip 3: Use a meat thermometer.
The only way to determine if a turkey (or any meat, poultry or seafood) is cooked is to check its internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. Your thermometer should register 165°F in all three of these places. The juices rarely run clear at this temperature, and when they do the bird is often overcooked. Using the food thermometer is the best way to ensure your turkey is cooked, but not overdone.
Tip 4: Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it as soon as you can, within 2 hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won’t use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use your leftover turkey within four months. After that, the leftovers will still be safe, but can dry out or lose flavor.
For more information on food safety, consumers can visit https://www.usda.gov/topics/health-and-safety or FoodSafety.gov.