The holidays are just around the corner and many people are concerned about food safety in regards to the turkey they are planning to serve. By following a few easy steps you can ensure that you will have a turkey dinner that is safe to eat and free from bacteria that can cause food borne illnesses.
THAWING: Thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water. In the refrigerator, leave the turkey in the package and place on a tray to contain any moisture from the defrosting turkey. It will take approximately 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. For instance, a 15-pound turkey will take 3 days to defrost in the refrigerator. To thaw your turkey in cold water, leave in the package and place in cold water. Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Change the water every half-hour so that the surface of the turkey remains cold. This will inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria on the surface of the turkey.
STUFFING: Do NOT pre-stuff your turkey the night before. The cavity of the turkey can insulate the stuffing and not allow it to cool properly. Stuff your turkey immediately before cooking.
ROASTING/COOKING: Place turkey, breast side up, in a roasting pan, insert meat thermometer in thigh. Cook at 325o F. Cooking a turkey at a lower temperature than 325o F may encourage bacteria to grow inside the turkey where temperatures could stay below 140o F for an extended period of time. Do NOT partially cook turkey the day before, because interrupted cooking may increase bacterial growth. Do NOT cook ahead of time and leave whole in the refrigerator. Cooking ahead of time is fine but you need to remove the meat from the bones because a turkey is too big to cool quickly enough to prevent bacteria from growing to unsafe levels.
Turkey is done when the meat thermometer reaches 165o F when placed in the inner most part of the thigh or thickest part of the breast. If the turkey is stuffed, stuffing must reach a minimum of 165o F. Even if your turkey comes with a pop-up indicator for doneness, you should check it with a meat thermometer to ensure it has reached a minimum of 165o F.
STORAGE OF LEFTOVERS: Within two hours after roasting, remove stuffing from turkey and carve the meat off the bones, then place in refrigerator or freezer. When storing in the refrigerator, store turkey and stuffing separately and use within three days. When storing in the freezer, wrap in heavy foil, freezer wrap or place in freezer containers. For best taste, use stuffing within one month and turkey within two months.