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Follow these safety tips to stay safe and enjoy a salmonella-free Thanksgiving dinner

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    It’s important to follow these safety tips so your Thanksgiving is a delicious one. Scan this photo with Prindeo app to see a video about turkey preparation. PHOTO BY METROGRAPHICS

Published November 20. 2018 12:31PM

When it comes time to cook the turkey, don’t let salmonella spoil your Thanksgiving.

Follow these recommendations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture for a healthy holiday.

The first step to staying healthy is thawing the turkey properly. There are several ways to do this, but leaving it sit out on the kitchen counter top isn’t one of them. Likewise, never leave a frozen turkey sitting in a vehicle, basement, back porch or anywhere the temperature can fluctuate. As soon as the turkey is brought home from the store, put it in the freezer until it’s time to begin thawing it.

“When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature becomes unsafe,” the CDC stated on its website. “Bacteria can grow rapidly in the ‘danger zone’ between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The center of the turkey may still be frozen, but the outer layer is in that “danger zone” where foodborne bacteria can rapidly multiply.

So, how do you thaw out a turkey properly? Three methods: refrigerator, cold water or microwave.

Refrigerator method

Place the frozen turkey, still in its plastic wrapper, in a container at least 2 inches deep. This will help keep any liquid from dripping onto other foods.

In the refrigerator, it can thaw out slowly over several days, while staying cold enough to prevent bacteria growth. The basic rule of thumb is for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, it needs about 24 hours to thaw in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler, according to the Department of Health. Here is a handy table.

• 4 to 12 pounds: one to three days

• 12 to 16 pounds: three to four days

• 16 to 20 pounds: four to five days

• 20 to 24 pounds: five to six days

Once thawed, the turkey can remain in the refrigerator safely for one to two days before cooking, or it can be refrozen without cooking. Some loss to quality of the turkey may occur.

Cold water method

Then there is the cold water method. It takes about 30 minutes per pound.

Again, leave the turkey in its leakproof, plastic bag. This will help to prevent cross-contamination and will keep the turkey from absorbing the water.

Cover the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until it is thawed, and then cook it immediately. Do not refreeze it.

Thawing time is about:

• 4 to 12 pounds: two to six hours

• 12 to 16 pounds: six to eight hours

• 16 to 20 pounds: eight to 10 hours

• 20 to 24 pounds: 10 to 12 hours

Microwave method

And there is the microwave method. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper setting for defrosting a turkey. Make sure to cook the turkey immediately, because some areas of the turkey may have started to cook in the microwave. It cannot be refrozen.

Safe handling

Now that the turkey is thawed, the next step to a healthy holiday is to handle the turkey safely.

Hands should be washed for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling the turkey. The CDC doesn’t recommend washing the turkey though. Splashed water from washing the turkey can potentially spread salmonella to other surfaces and nearby food.

And make sure to use a different cutting board and utensil for vegetables and other foods, not the same ones used for raw meat. When done, wash the items in hot, soapy water or a dishwasher.

Safe stuffing

Now, the bird is thawed and ready for stuffing.

The CDC recommends cooking stuffing in a separate casserole dish. But if stuffing the turkey is preferred, then stuff it just before cooking. Do not let stuffing sit in an uncooked turkey.

To make sure the stuffing is cooked thoroughly, the temperature in the center of the stuffing should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a food thermometer in the center of the stuffing to check the temperature.

Once the turkey is done, wait for another 20 minutes after removing it from the oven to allow the stuffing to continue to cook inside the bird.

To cook the turkey safely, the oven should be set at least to 325 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The turkey should be sitting in a roasting pan with about 2 inches of water, breast side up.

To make sure it is done, place the food thermometer into the thickest portions of the breast, thigh and wing joint. The temperature should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

If using a microwave to cook the turkey, then check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure the turkey is cooked long enough at the correct wattage.

Use a thermometer

Everything has been done right, but the meat looks pink. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

According to the USDA, “Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the product. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature. … The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.”

Why? There are a few different reasons. One is chemical changes during cooking. The heat of the oven reacts with the hemoglobin in the meat to produce a pink tinge. High levels of naturally occurring myoglobin in the meat can also cause a pinkish color. It can also be caused by nitrates in the water in the pan and grilling or smoking the turkey.


Now that dinner is over, it is still important to be vigilant about potential bacteria that can cause illness.

“Clostridium perfringens are bacteria that grow in cooked foods left at room temperature. It is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning,” the CDC said.

To prevent food poisoning, don’t let cooked meat sit out for more than two hours. Place it in multiple containers so that it cools completely in the refrigerator. And make sure the refrigerator is between 42 degrees and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezers should be set at zero.

If food poisoning occurs, the major symptoms include vomiting and abdominal cramps. This will occur within six to 24 hours after eating.

Most people infected with salmonella develop a fever, diarrhea and stomach cramps within 12 to 72 hours after coming in contact with the bacteria, according to the CDC. The illness lasts about four to seven days, and most people do not need treatment. In rare cases, the infection is more severe and requires hospitalization.

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