As someone who has studied microbiology and is “Serve Safe” certified, I have to admit that eating at other people’s homes makes me nervous. How did they thaw that meat? Did they wash their hands after they touched that raw poultry? Did their dog jump up and lick the food on the counter when nobody was looking? All of these questions fill my head when I’m at someone’s home eating dinner. I just can’t help it. I think most home cooks aren’t educated enough on food safety, so when Shelley Feist, consumer food safety expert and executive director of the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education asked me if I’d publish her food safety tips, I said YES!
In the U.S., 48 million people get sick with food poisoning every year. That’s one in six Americans. Millions of home cooks are planning to make holiday feasts which presents many opportunities for food handling and preparation mishaps that could put people at risk of illness. We must remind home cooks that consistent practice of basic safe food handling can reduce the risk of food poisoning, which is especially important in households with young children.
From the Thanksgiving turkey to the Christmas ham, meat and poultry are often the center of the holiday meal. A little bit of planning – and a few food safety steps – can ensure that your favorite holiday dishes are done to perfection.
- Wash hands and surfaces with warm soapy water before and after handling raw meat.
- Don’t rinse raw meat or poultry in the sink. It is not a safety step, and to do so increases the chances of spreading raw juices around your kitchen.
- When shopping, use plastic bags provided at the meat counter to help avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods in your cart so juices don’t drip.
- Designate separate cutting boards for raw meats or clean and sanitize cutting boards between uses for different foods.
- In the refrigerator, store raw meat on the bottom shelves and ready-to-eat foods on the top shelves. Put turkey (or other raw meat) in a rimmed pan to catch any leaking juices.
- If buying a frozen turkey, purchase as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. (See thawing instructions below).
- If buying a fresh turkey, purchase it only 1 to 2 days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.
- Go straight home from the store because raw meat needs to be refrigerated within two hours.
- After the meal, store leftovers in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or the freezer within two hours.
- Use cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. Cooked turkey keeps for 3-4 months in the freezer.
- Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement or any place where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.
- No matter the cooking method, all meat and poultry should be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer. When you use a food thermometer, you can make sure your dish is safe and not over-cooked.
- Whole Turkey: 165°F (best to cook stuffing separate from your turkey)
- Ham (fresh): 145°F with a 3-minute “rest time” after removal from the heat source
- Pork roast: 145°F with a 3-minute “rest time” after removal from the heat source
- Lamb: 145°F with a 3-minute “rest time” after removal from the heat source
- Duck: 165°F
- When using leftovers, reheat the foods to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer; bring leftover gravy to a boil before serving.
There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: 1. in the refrigerator; 2. in cold water and 3. in the microwave oven. If you use the microwave oven method, the turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing.
In the Refrigerator (40 °F or below)
Keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. If necessary, a turkey that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator may be refrozen. Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method and will result in the best finished product.
|Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds|
|4 to 12 pounds||1 to 3 days|
|12 to 16 pounds||3 to 4 days|
|16 to 20 pounds||4 to 5 days|
|20 to 24 pounds||5 to 6 days|
In Cold Water
Wrap your turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.
|Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound|
|4 to 12 pounds||2 to 6 hours|
|12 to 16 pounds||6 to 8 hours|
|16 to 20 pounds||8 to 10 hours|
|20 to 24 pounds||10 to 12 hours|
In the Microwave Oven (if it fits)
Check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.
REMINDER: Remove the giblets from the turkey cavities after thawing. Cook separately.
To learn more about food safety during the holidays, and for recipes with food safety instructions, visit StoryOfYourDinner.org