The turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table. But in the hectic preparations of the Thanksgiving meal, cooks can lose sight of food safety.
LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu has several tips to help keep your food safe this holiday.
The first mistake many people make is rinsing their turkey before cooking, Xu said.
“Washing the turkey can increase the risk of cross contamination because of the splashing,” she said.
When washing the turkey, water can splash off the bird and spread foodborne pathogens around the kitchen. This step is not necessary and will not wash off all contaminates. Only cooking to proper temperature will kill all foodborne pathogens.
Never cook a turkey without a meat thermometer, and if the turkey comes with a pop-up timer designed to tell you when the turkey is done, you can disregard it and go by temperature on the thermometer instead, Xu said.
“Make sure you take the temperature at multiple spots, especially the cold points such as under the wings,” she said.
A safe turkey is one cooked to 165 degrees.
Xu also recommends cooking stuffing separate from the bird. But if you do stuff your turkey, make sure the stuffing is also cooked to 165 degrees.
Some cooks will prepare ahead of time. If you cook your turkey well in advance of the meal, you can keep it warm in the oven.
“Check the temperature periodically to make sure it is above 140 degrees,” she said.
Another tip is to avoid cross contamination. Use one set of cutting boards, utensils and platters for raw poultry and another for the cooked turkey. Also, separate ready-to-eat foods such as vegetable trays from raw foods.
Xu’s final tip is to put away leftovers. Food that sits out for two hours or more can get into the temperature danger zone. Get perishable food into the refrigerator. You can share the food, but don’t share salmonella.
“If guests are taking leftovers, use ice packs to keep the food cold,” she said.
Louisiana State University, Tobie Blanchard
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