Safely prepare your Thanksgiving Day turkey

Marshall County Emergency Management Agency
Director EMA

With the Thanksgiving holiday just a few days away, it’s a good time to remind everyone of good food preparation safety practices.

Did you know that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, food poisoning outbreaks occur most often in November and December? And, that meat and poultry account for 92 percent of food poisoning outbreaks with an identified single food source?

When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues which are: Thawing, preparing, stuffing and cooking.
Safe Thawing:
There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven.
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, 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."

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, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.

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 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.

Safe Cooking:
 Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F 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 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at 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 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

Refrigerate leftovers at 40 F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.

Deep Frying: 
If you plan to deep-fry your bird this Thanksgiving here are some important reminders:
• Keep outdoor fryers off decks, out of garages and a safe distance away from trees and other structures.
• Make sure the turkey is thawed and dry before cooking. Ice or water that mixes into the hot oil can cause flare-ups.
• Watch the weather. Never operate a fryer outdoors in the rain or snow.
• Place the fryer on a level surface, and avoid moving it once it’s in use.
• Leave at least 2 feet between the tank and the burner when using a propane-powered fryer.
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid overfilling. Oil can ignite when it makes contact with the burner.
• Choose a smaller turkey for frying. A bird that's 8 to 10 pounds is best; pass on turkeys over 12 pounds.
• Never leave a fryer unattended.
• Purchase a fryer with temperature controls, and watch the oil temperature carefully. Cooking oil that is heated beyond its smoke point can catch fire. If you notice the oil is smoking, turn the fryer off.
• Turn off the burner before lowering the turkey into the oil. Once the turkey is submerged, turn the burner on.
• Wear goggles to shield your eyes, use oven mitts to protect your hands and arms and keep a grease-rated fire extinguisher close by.
• Skip the stuffing when frying turkey, and avoid water-based marinades.
• Keep children and pets away from the fryer at all times.
• Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. NEVER use water to put out an oil or grease fire
• Once finished, carefully remove the pot from the burner. Place it on a level surface and cover to let the oil cool overnight before disposing.
• Opt for an oil-less fryer. This uses infrared heat, rather than oil, to cook the turkey.