As the “holiday season” approaches, images of a perfectly browned turkey with all the trimmings are bound to be in your mind. Mmm…I can almost taste it!
I’m sure the vision of disease-causing bacteria and food poisoning is the furthest thing from your mind. Let’s keep it that way…by focusing on handling, cooking and storing your holiday bird properly. Let’s stay “happy” during the “holidays”, shall we?
By following a few simple rules and taking a few extra precautions, your holiday celebrations can be safe and healthy. Let’s walk through the process together…
choose a bird [turkey, chicken, goose, duck] This is the right weight for your family or holiday gathering. Would you choose fresh or frozen?If you don’t have enough freezer space for the long defrosting process [see Thawing below], then fresh may be a better choice. Most grocery stores will take orders based on the exact size of fresh bird you want and the date you want to pick it up. To avoid cross-contamination, keep your “birdie” separate from other groceries on the way home.
Bacteria grow quickly at room temperature, so don’t leave Bird in the car or on the counter when you get home. Chill it or put it in the freezer immediately. If you’re not going to freeze it, then make sure to use it within 3 days.
Thawing your “bird” in the refrigerator is the preferred and safest method. This can be a bit time consuming, so be sure to plan ahead. Allow 4-5 lbs for 24 hours. That means if you’re cooking a 12-pound turkey, you’ll need 3 days to thaw. Keep the bird in its original packaging and place it on a tray in the freezer to catch any liquid that may leak during thawing.
You can also safely observe your “bird” using the microwave.After reviewing your owner’s manual [hopefully you can find it…] For time and power level, remove all outer packaging and place your “bird” on a microwave-safe plate. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing, do not refreeze.
A final, more labor-intensive method is to thaw in cold water. Fill the sink with enough cold water to completely submerge your turkey, making sure it’s wrapped securely. You need to change the water every 30 minutes, so don’t go shopping today! Also, you need to cook the turkey as soon as it’s thawed, and refreezing is an absolute “no”. With this method, allow 30 minutes per pound… 8 hours for your 16 lb bird, who has time? After all this handling, remember to wash your hands before and after, or use hand sanitizer…non-alcoholic is my preference. I keep one on my kitchen counter all the time.
This is the best part of meal prep as it will fill your home with a wonderful aroma and will leave you with hours of free time to prepare the rest of the meal. This is also the most dangerous stage, as there are many opportunities for bacterial cross-contamination. Washing and/or hand washing is mandatory.
You don’t want your turkey to be “dry,” so slow and low is the best strategy for a perfect turkey! I like to cook mine at 350F, but you shouldn’t go below 325F. We’re getting ahead of ourselves…before you take your turkey out of the fridge, you need to prep the surface. Wash your hands thoroughly and sanitize countertops.a teaspoon [5 mL] Bleach Combine 3 cups [750 mL] After wiping down the surface, water from a spray bottle will do the trick. After sanitizing, wait a few minutes, then rinse the counters with plenty of water and allow to air dry or wipe dry with a clean towel.
Remove viscera and organs from the cavity and rinse the cavity thoroughly under running water. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
To plug or not to plug… that is the question. The stuffing is delicious and keeps the turkey moist, but you need to know that since the stuffing and the turkey usually reach safe temperatures at different times, a stuffed turkey can be a potential salmonella disaster. This year you might want to consider cooking the filling separately. bonus? A turkey without the stuffing takes less time to cook: A 14-pound stuffed turkey takes 4 hours to cook, but its unstuffed turkey takes only 3-3/4 hours. Those 15 minutes can be critical when you have a group of hungry people waiting! You’ll also want to check the internal temperature of the bird…perfect starts at 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
dispose of leftovers
Some will argue that leftovers are the best part of a turkey dinner…they’re delicious, but not the “best” part!
The ideal way to safely store leftovers is to remove the meat from the carcass as soon as possible and refrigerate it in a small container. Plan to use the leftovers within two or three days. If I haven’t convinced you to cook the stuffing separately, be sure to remove all the stuffing from the turkey immediately after cooking to promote faster cooling. Stuffing is moist and heats up and cools down slowly…it’s the perfect climate for bacteria to grow.
Serve leftover “care packages” to your guests, and use leftover carcasses to make delicious soups!
Ensure a healthy holiday…
There are so many great things about the holidays, why let salmonella spoil the fun?
Canada reports approximately 6,000 – 12,000 cases of Salmonella each year. Diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps can last up to 7 days, so they should definitely be avoided. Taking extra care when handling raw meat — in this case, poultry — can go a long way in protecting you and your family from unwanted illness. Hand sanitizers kill 99.9% of disease-causing germs—including salmonella—in 15 seconds…and they’re 100% portable. Keep a few bottles at home…give yourself the gift of prevention this year.
Following these simple but important steps will keep your family and guests healthy and able to enjoy every moment of this special time of year.