The holiday season is here, and food safety is especially important as you prepare your Thanksgiving meal. Sacramento County Environmental Management Department (EMD) and Sacramento Public Health remind everyone cooking this season that improper preparation of meals and handling of leftovers can make you sick and everyone can play a role in preventing foodborne illness.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has investigated outbreaks of foodborne illness that were caused by bacteria in jalapeños, spinach, lettuce, peanut butter, cantaloupes, mangoes, frozen pizza, and frozen beef patties,” said EMD’s John Rogers. “Foodborne illness can usually be prevented by the proper handling of raw meats and vegetables when preparing and cooking meals, including storing leftovers. It’s also important to wash your hands frequently.”


Safe Thawing
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The “danger zone” is between 41 and 135ºF – the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe for up to six months, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the “danger zone.” There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven.

Safe Preparation
Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bactreia from the raw poultry can then be transferred. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods. Use soap and warm water and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Safe Stuffing
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165ºF. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165ºF, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.

Safe Cooking
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325ºF and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 ½ inches deep. Check the internal temperature a the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165ºF. Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

Handling Leftovers
Perishable foods should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. For optimum results, remove turkey meat from the bone and promptly refrigerate or freeze leftovers in shallow containers. It IS safe to freeze leftover turkey and trimmings – even if you purchased them frozen. Wrap tightly for best quality.

Refrigerator (41ºF or below)
Cooked turkey – 3 to 4 days
Cooked dishes and gravy – 3 to 4 days

Freezer (0ºF or below)
Turkey, plain; slices or pieces – 4 months
Turkey covered with broth or gravy – 6 months
Cooked poultry dishes, stuffing and gravy – 4-6 months

Reheating a whold turkey is NOT recommended. If you plan to reheat a turkey, cut the meat into smaller pieces. Slice breast meat. Legs and wings may be left whole. Refrigerate in shallow containers. After removing from refrigeration, reheat turkey to 165ºF prior to serving.


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