If you’ve been confused in the past about the temperature you needed to cook your holiday turkey, you now need to remember only one temperature, 165 degrees. Past food safety guidelines recommended higher temperatures for some poultry products, including 170 degrees for chicken breasts and 180 degrees for whole birds.
“A food thermometer is the only way to make sure that turkey has reached a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria,” says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
To make sure a whole turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, place a food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast. For turkey breasts, check the thickest part of the breast. If using an oven cooking bag, follow the manufacturer's guidelines on the package.
Stuffing should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. If you choose to stuff a turkey, be sure to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and the center of the stuffing.
If the center of the stuffing has not reached 165 degrees, continue cooking the turkey until it does reach that temperature. You may cook stuffing separately to help prevent overcooking your turkey.
Be sure to get the turkey to a safe position on the stovetop or in the oven to prevent being burned from the hot cooking pan or juices.
To make sure your Thanksgiving feast is delicious and safe, Reames recommends additional food safety guidelines.
If you choose to buy a frozen bird, you may do so at any time, but make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only one or two days before cooking.
Do not buy a stuffed fresh turkey.
Follow proper thawing methods; otherwise, harmful bacteria that may have been present prior to freezing a turkey can begin to grow again. Three safe ways to thaw a turkey or other food are: in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower, in cold water and in the microwave.
When thawing in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey. When thawing in cold water, allow 30 minutes per pound and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. When thawing in the microwave, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwave thawing.
After touching raw meat or poultry, wash your hands for 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. Also, be sure that utensils, plates, work surfaces, etc. have been thoroughly cleaned.
Keep raw foods separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination. Raw meat and poultry products may contain harmful bacteria, so it is important that their juices do not come into contact with food that will be consumed without cooking. Also, never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat or poultry.
To keep foodborne bacteria from growing, refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey into small pieces and refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days, gravy within one or two days or freeze these foods. Reheat them thoroughly to 165 F or until hot and steaming.
Consumers with food safety questions can call the toll-free U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) 674-6854. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
For related stories about holiday food safety, visit the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com. Also, contact the LSU AgCenter extension agent in your parish. Reames' advice is also available at the Fast Recipes Web site.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or firstname.lastname@example.org.