Plan your Turkey Day – Safely

After you checkout that turkey from a grocery store, take it home and store in the freezer – or refrigerator, if you want to begin defrosting it. Frozen turkeys should not be left in the car, in garage, on the back porch or any place else where safe refrigeration temperatures cannot be monitored or ensured.

Safe defrosting: While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to defrost (thaw), any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.

There are three safe ways to thaw the frozen food – turkey. 1) In the refrigerator, 2) in cold running water, or 3) in the microwave oven prior to cooking.

  • If you thaw it in the refrigerator, plan ahead. Please allow approximately 24 hours for every five pounds. For example, you will need three days for a 15-pound whole turkey. You can refreeze the turkey without cooking but be prepared for some quality loss.
  • For cold water thawing, place the leak-proof package under cold running tap water. Do not use warm or hot water. Allow 30 minutes per pound for good thawing. You may thaw the 15-pound whole turkey in six to eight hours. You can only freeze the turkey once cooked.
  • If a microwave oven is used, please follow manufacturer’s instructions and plan to cook the turkey after thawing. After cooking, meat from turkey thawed in microwave can be frozen.

Stuffing:

Mix stuffing just before it goes into the turkey. The wet and dry ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. Mix ingredients just before placing the stuffing inside the turkey or into a casserole. The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about ¾ cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. The stuffing should be moist and not dry, since heat destroys harmful bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. A meat thermometer is very essential when stuffing a turkey. The turkey itself may reach the proper temperature of 180°F (82°C) in the innermost part; the stuffing may not reach a temperature of 165°F (74°C) – sufficient to destroy harmful bacteria. For optimal safety and uniform cooking, cook stuffing separately.

The stuffed turkey should be placed immediately in an oven set no lower than 325°F. Even if you use a “pop-up” temperature indicator, use conventional thermometer in several places, especially the innermost part of the thigh and the center of the stuffing. When juices run clear, the internal temperature of turkey reaches 180°F and the stuffing temperature reaches 165°F, let the turkey and stuffing stand for 20 minutes before removing all stuffing and carving.

Cooking:

Don’t forget the variables such as:

  • A partially frozen turkey requires longer cooking
  • Dark roasting pans cook faster than shiny metals
  • The depth and size of the pan can reduce heat circulation to all parts of turkey
  • The use of a “foil tent” can slow the cooking process
  • An oven-cooking bag can enhance cooking time
  • Stuffed turkey takes longer to cook
  • The rack position can have an effect on even cooking & heat circulation
  • A turkey or the cooking pan may be too large for the oven, thus blocking heat circulation

The cooking times are different based on the weight of the turkey, and whether it is stuffed or not. A 15-pound turkey will require between 3 to 3 ¾ hours – if unstuffed, but if stuffed, it will take additional 30 minutes.

The color of cooked meat and poultry is not always a sure sign of its doneness. Only by using a product thermometer can one accurately determine that the turkey has reached a safe temperature. Turkey, fresh pork, ground beef and veal can remain pink after cooking to temperatures of 160°F and higher. The smoked turkey meat is always pink.

Handling Dinners:

  • If eating right away, maintain the turkey and stuffing hot. Covering the turkey with foil will keep it moist in the oven set to maintain at 140°F or above.
  • If eating later, do not keep it hot for longer than 2 hours. Remove stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate. Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate. Slice the breast meat, while the legs and wings may be left whole.
  • If reheating, reheat thoroughly to 165°F until hot and steaming. In microwave oven, cover food and rotate the dish for even heating.

It’s chow time!

If you have leftovers, and would like to use it again, please follow the safe storing procedures. The cooked turkey and other cooked dishes can be stored in a refrigerator at 41°F for 3 to 4 days. Stuffing and gravy will be safe in the same refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. You may freeze the leftovers in a freezer. Turkey slices, plain turkey, turkey covered with broth or gravy, cooked dishes can be stored in a freezer for up to 6 months. Store the gravy and stuffing in the freezer for up to 30 days. Longer freezer storage may be safe but the products will be drier and less flavorful.

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