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Make the right choices when preparing a holiday turkey

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The traditional holiday turkey will be prepared by about 250 million households this year. 

To make sure that dinner is safer for everyone to enjoy, there are a few safety precautions to take when preparing your next turkey dinner.  Planning ahead will help reduce the risks of foodborne illness at your holiday table.

If you purchase a fresh turkey, purchase only one to two days before cooking.  Prestuffed fresh turkeys are not recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service. To thaw a frozen turkey, place the turkey in its original wrapping, in a pan to catch drippings, in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.  Allow about 24 hours per five pounds of turkey.  Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked within one to two days. If you forget to thaw the turkey, you can also defrost a turkey by submerging it in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes.  Allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. 

When roasting your turkey, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. A whole turkey is safely cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.  For additional safety precautions, do not cook stuffing inside a whole turkey.  If you do, be sure to stuff the turkey immediately before roasting. The center of the stuffing must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

To store leftovers, cut the turkey into small pieces and refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. Leftovers should be used within three to four days. To reheat thoroughly, a temperature of 165 degrees is recommended.

Source:  Sandra Bastin, Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture.

Microwaving a turkey

Many people know that it is safe to defrost a whole turkey in the microwave if the turkey is immediately transferred to a hot grill or oven to finish cooking.  On the defrost power level it takes about 10 to 12 minutes per pound to defrost.  But you can also cook a turkey successfully in the microwave oven – whole or in parts.  Timing can vary because of the wattage of microwaves, so always follow the recommendations of your user’s manual before beginning.  Most microwaves will not accommodate more than a 12 to 14 pound turkey.  A cooking bag is recommended to help in even cooking. 

Do not microwave a stuffed turkey; cook the stuffing in a separate casserole.  At 50 percent power level, it will take about 9 to 10 minutes per pound for your turkey to cook. Rotate the turkey often. The turkey should be done and safe to consume when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey should stand about 20 minutes before carving.  Turkey parts may also be cooked in the microwave oven.  Breasts take 10 to 15 minutes per pound; and drumsticks, wings, and thighs about 13 to 16 minutes per pound. Even though the turkey may not be as brown as that you roast, it will be moist and flavorful.

For information, visit www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/turkey_from_farm_to_table/index.asp.

Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030.