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November 24, 2014 at 10:41 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Turkey Tips: Make It a Safe Thanksgiving

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Thanksgiving is a time to focus on the good in our lives. With hope, this spirit of good persists beyond that Thursday in late November. Nothing can put a damper on thankful thoughts than illness. Unfortunately, the iconic bird can be a source of illness if not properly handled and prepared. 

Let's review proper turkey preparation techniques for your holiday safety.

Purchasing Your Turkey

If you are purchasing a turkey directly from the farm, the preparation is likely flying under the radar of the USDA.  I really don't consider this a major issue, however, especially if the farm espouses healthier practices with free range and organic raising practices.  These birds are typically free of the compound Nitarison which is an arsenic-based compound used in large production facilities during the first six weeks of a turkey's typical 20 week life cycle.  While larger production farms typically use antibiotics to enhance growth, smaller, more conscious farms usually refrain from these practices.  So, while not under the inspection of the USDA, smaller farms can offer some definite advantages as far as providing a more healthy bird.

Store-bought turkeys are most often frozen.  These birds are under the inspection of the USDA which ensures that bacterial counts of the meat and organs are at an acceptable level.  When purchasing a frozen turkey, make sure the wrapper is properly sealed.  Have the bird placed in its own bag and wash hands after even handling the frozen, wrapped bird to prevent transmission of salmonella.  Even frozen, raw poultry can transmit this infectious bacteria.

Because pre-stuffed frozen turkeys can provide a more significant harbor for bacteria, I shy away from these birds. 

Storing Your Turkey

Poultry meat is expected to contain potentially harmful bacteria, namely Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens.  These bacteria can cause severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and even death.  Any poultry to skin or surface contact should be treated as possible exposure to these infectious bacteria.  Salmonella can be transmitted immediately on contact with poultry and can live on surfaces for as long as four weeks.

A frozen raw turkey can safely be kept in a freezer at or below zero degrees F for up to 12 months.  If you plan to thaw a frozen turkey in your refrigerator, allow one day for every 5 pounds.  It is generally safer and more even to thaw a turkey submerged in cool water.  Change the water every 30 to 60 minutes and assume 30 minutes thawing time per pound.  Thawing in a microwave is faster but promotes uneven thawing and exposes the microwave to potentially harmful bacteria. 

Preparing your Turkey

Heed precautions when handling the turkey.  Clean surface contacts with raw turkey with an antiseptic.  Wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.  It is best to prepare stuffing outside of the bird but if prepared inside the bird, ensure adequate core temperature.  Make sure that the bird is thoroughly thawed to ensure even cooking.  To kill all bacteria, the meet should be uniformly above 165 degrees F.  The best way to ensure adequate core temperatures is with a meat thermometer.  A meat thermometer can be calibrated but measuring boiling water and ensuring that it reaches 212 degrees F.

A special safety note should be considered if using a deep fryer.  Deep frying turkeys is responsible for several fires (primarily garage) and burns each year.  If using a deep fryer, make sure it is on level ground, at least 10 feet from your living structure.  Ensure that the bird is thawed and dry.  Excess water can cause the oil to spatter and cause burns. 

After The Meal

Turkey meat should be cooled in a refrigerator after 2 hours.  Re-warming of the meat should again bring it to 165 degrees F for consumption.  Leftover turkey will keep in a refrigerator at 40 degrees F or less for up to 4 days before spoiling.

Thanksgiving is a time of carefree celebration with family and friends in a time of appreciation.  Care should be taken, however, in preparation of the iconic poultry to prevent foodborne illness.

Live, and live well!  Have a wonderful holiday!

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