Turkey cooking safety tips

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By Allison Lewis

Holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving, often go hand-in-hand with turkey. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that more homes will be serving turkey on the major fall and winter holidays than any other item. Many family cooks have prepared this favorite for years and years with recipes and instructions that have been lovingly handed down through generations and which they, in turn, will hand down to their children. In some homes, cooking the first turkey might even be seen as a rite of passage.
Others however, might not have this expert guidance. Whether you’ve cooked turkeys for the last 50 years or are just beginning a new tradition this year, it’s a good idea to look at some of the latest safety updates as well as shopping tips.
To get the most out of your meal, keep the following hints in mind when selecting a turkey. If it’s fresh, check for the sell-by date. Make sure you cook and serve within two days of this date. Vacuum-packaged fresh turkey has a shelf life of up to 10 days. Before you buy, inspect the package and do not accept if it has holes or tears. A frozen turkey will keep up to one year.
In all cases, look for the USDA symbols: Inspection and Grade A stamps. Figure 1 1/4 pounds per person for generous portions and leftovers (you know you’ll want those).
Thawing is best done on a tray in the refrigerator. Figure 24 hours for each five pounds of weight. Another option is to use cold water immersion. In order to do this, place the wrapped turkey in the sink and cover it with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
Stuffing is almost as essential as turkey at a holiday meal. To prepare, get the ingredients ready a day in advance. Store dry items at room temperature. Keep the produce in the refrigerator. Stuff a whole bird immediately before cooking, but remember, dressing expands, so don’t overstuff. The stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
To roast, place the bird breast side up on a rack in a shallow pan. Cover it with a loose aluminum foil tent. Insert a meat thermometer through the foil and into the inner thigh muscle. Cook in a 325 degrees F oven; do not cook at low heat. Remove the foil during the last 20 to 30 minutes for browning. Cook until the meat thermometer reads 180 degrees F.
When finished cooking, remove the bird from oven and let cool for 20 minutes. While it’s cooling, remove all of the stuffing. You can now carve the bird. Afterwards, keep warm in a 200 degrees F oven.
Prepared by Kathy Daly-Koziel, M.H.P., R.D., L.D., State EFNEP Coordinator.