It is that time for those holiday food safety reminders you all love so much. And as a bonus, some helpful resources for those holiday cooking questions. Do you know the Butterball hotline number? I do.
PLEASE FOLLOW ALL CDC, STATE, AND LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT SUGGESTIONS BEFORE GATHERING WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS THIS YEAR. (DOCTOR HINT: DON'T GATHER, PLEASE)
Many decades ago, when I grew up, nobody checked the temperature of foods or worried about food safety. We were so wrong.
In my 40 years as a physician, I have seen many cases of foodborne illnesses. Mostly mild and self-limiting but some much more serious, especially in children and the elderly. So let's get this right.
First, a reminder about cleaning poultry: always assume that the bird is contaminated with bad bacteria. Pat dry and don't spray with water that will spread in the area. Please check Chicken… To Rinse or Not To Rinse? for more information.
If your bird is frozen, it needs to defrost before the holiday. DO NOT defrost by setting out at room temperature. That is not safe.
To safely thaw the bird, keep in the unopened wrapper and place it in the refrigerator. Plan on about 5 hours per pound, so plan ahead. That 20-pound bird will take 4 days plus. So plan for it and give yourself a little cushion.
But you procrastinated, didn't you, so you have a frozen turkey to cook tomorrow. What to do? The old cold water trick is what you are looking for. According to the USDA, the cold water method is:
- Thaw breast side down, in the unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to cover your turkey completely.
- Change water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey chilled. (please note... cold water). The idea is to keep the bird in water that is under 40°, so it thaws safely.
- Estimate a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.
But you forgot to thaw, and it is Thanksgiving morning. All hope is not lost. You can cook a frozen turkey but in a precise manner, and it takes longer. Check out How to Cook a Frozen Turkey.
Cooking Turkey Safely
Stuffing/dressing concerns. The best answer here is just never to cook the stuffing in the bird. Just don't do it.
Stuffing will need to get to 165° to be safely consumed, and you will overcook everything else if it is in the bird. Please, please, please cook your dressing outside the bird. If you must, please check Dressing Basics at the USDA. But don't do it!
Next, let's talk final internal temperature. 165° is it. That will kill the bad bacteria. Now you will read a lot about dark meat needing 180 degrees. True for taste and texture, but not for safety.
Please note that the popup plastic thing they put in your bird is useless and, if believed, can be dangerous. Do not rely on it.
You must get a meat thermometer to be safe. This is not optional; it is required. See my Shop if you need recommendations, or the $10 electronic type from your local Home Depot type store will work.
General Food Safety Rules
- Wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, cutting boards, and kitchen tools frequently after handling uncooked foods, especially before touching other foods, tools, or surfaces. Hot soapy water is your friend.
- Wash produce well but not eggs, meat, or poultry, which can spread bacteria.
- Never thaw or marinate at room temperature.
- Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separated from other foods both during storage and preparation.
- Keep hot food hot and cold food cold because the bacteria multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40° and 140°.
- Cover leftovers to prevent cross-contamination and store under 40° within two hours.
- Consume or freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.
- Cold foods: Can set out but no longer than 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. Or you can keep them cool to 40° or less.
- Hot food should be kept at or above 140°F.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftover foods promptly. If over the time limits, then discard.
Check foodsafety.gov for more information and other food safety tips.
Holiday Cooking Resources
Butterball.com is the complete online reference for your turkey questions. There are videos and all the handholding you should need, but if you have something not covered, you can call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372). You can also text questions at 844-877-3456. And Alexia support has been added.
USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline For food safety tips and more call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. The hotline is available year-round Monday through Friday.
King Author Flour Baking help at 855-371-2253. Check their homepage for online chat and email support.
I am skipping the cranberry hotline and some of the various turkey hotlines. I'm sorry to pass along the apparent demise of the Reynolds Aluminium Foil Hotline, Sara Lee Pie hotline, and Betty Crocker Facebook support.
Let's have a happy and safe Thanksgiving out there.
Publisher's Note: Originally published November 21, 2016. Updated yearly near Thanksgiving with current information.