Turkey day in Raleigh a day earlier than normal

We’re preparing our Thanksgiving meal today as my Mother-in-law, who’s been here for the past week and is an enormous help with the new baby, is traveling back to Canada tomorrow. Stuffing, potatoes, squash and apple crisp are all prepared and chilling in the fridge. The bird is in the oven and is on target to be done around 5pm.

I’ve been getting some intermittant calls and emails from extension agents and others for some last minute tips; here are a few of the tidbits:

-Cooking turkeys overnight at a really low heat is still a common practice (without using a thermometer)– it’s not a best practice and not recommended, especially without watching the temps of the meat as it cooks.
– It takes a few days to thaw a frozen turkey in the fridge — putting it in the fridge or on the porch now, in preparation for tomorrow is probably not enough time. Cooking from frozen is a good alternative.

-The inside of the carcass is the most contaminated part — cross contamination while stuffing a bird (if that’s the technique being used) can be a big problem.

-Timing of the meal is tough — heard an anecdote from an infosheet subscriber who attended a family meal a couple of years ago where the turkey was cooked and sat on the counter for 4+ hours as the rest of the meal was prepared.

Earlier in the week I spoke with Jeanna Bryner from LiveScience and we talked about some of the risks associated with Thanksgiving meals (including the infamous exploding-a-turkey-in-a-deep-fryer-trick).

From the article:

Don’t wash the turkey. What?! "As soon as you have the pressure of the water hitting the turkey it can spray anything on the outside of that turkey around the kitchen," Chapman told LiveScience. Researchers in the United Kingdom recently found that forceful water hitting a turkey could spray its pathogens up to 3 feet (about 1 meter) away. Chapman recommends wiping the outside of the bird with a damp rag, and then immediately throwing that rag into the washing machine. "Treat that damp rag like a raw chicken," he said, adding that it likely contains the pathogens you’re trying to avoid.

Cook that bird. "The most important thing is cooking that turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius), and there’s only one way to know whether you’ve cooked it safely and that is to use a thermometer." Campylobacter and Salmonella can’t grow until the temperature hits 41 degrees F, and they are killed off when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees F. While turkey juices do change from raw-meat pink to a clear color as the bird cooks, that doesn’t equate with safe eating. Here’s how to measure a turkey’s doneness: Stick a tip-sensitive digital thermometer into perhaps eight to 10 spots on the turkey. If the thermometer reads at least 165 degrees F all around, it can come out. Chapman says to target areas of thick muscle away from the turkey cavity and bone, since the bone conducts heat much better than does the meat and so could give you a false reading.

Quick, get the bird in the fridge. As soon as the meal is done, Chapman suggests getting the turkey meat into the refrigerator, because if any pathogens were left on the meat they could start growing as soon as temperatures get below about 135 degrees F (57 degrees C).

And for your viewing pleasure here are some links to our holiday food safety infosheets and other relevant ones for the past couple of years:

Holiday meal food safety

Avoid foodborne illness during the holidays

Bathing birds is a food safety mess

Keeping poop off the plate

Avoid the runs around the holidays

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.