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Preparing Safe Meals

Tips for changing traditional holiday food-handling

Carol Ann Burtness

Traditional holiday menus don't change much from year to year, but it may be time to change the way you handle food to prevent a foodborne illness.

Do not wash or rinse raw poultry

Washing or rinsing raw turkey increases the chance to spread bacteria to other ready-to-eat foods around the sink and counter area. Research indicates that heat during the roasting process will kill bacteria. If you still want to rinse raw turkey, reduce the chance of cross contamination by cleaning and sanitizing the entire sink and counter area with a solution of one tablespoon chlorine bleach to one gallon of water before and after rinsing the bird.

Thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator

If you are pressed for time, thaw a frozen bird breast-side down in a clean sink filled with cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes thawing for every pound. Clean and sanitize the sink and counter before and after.

Cook turkey to a minimum temperature of 165°F

Research indicates a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, measured with a food thermometer, is safe for all poultry. Previously, the USDA recommended different temperatures for various poultry parts. You may choose to cook turkey to a higher temperature, according to your personal preference.

Do not rely only on a turkey's pop-up timer

Most pop-up timers have short probes that do not reach deep enough to get an accurate internal temperature reading. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.

Do not re-use meat or poultry packaging

Packaging materials from raw meat or poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons, or plastic wraps, should be discarded.

Place leftovers in shallow pans for fast uniform cooling

Improperly cooled leftovers cause many foodborne illnesses. Cut turkey and ham into smaller portions for quick cooling. Place other leftovers in shallow pans less than two inches deep. Refrigerate uncovered. Food should cool quickly to 70 degrees F within 2 hours then to 41 degrees F within 4 additional hours as measured by a food thermometer.

Bring leftover gravy to a rolling boil either on the stove or in the microwave before serving

A simple reheating will not eliminate harmful bacteria.

Cover and refrigerate homemade pies that contain eggs

Leftover fruit pies that are prepared without eggs can be covered and stored on the counter. Supermarket or bakery pies that are not refrigerated are typically made from a commercial recipe with preservatives and anti-microbial ingredients that make the pies shelf-stable. However, after you open the commercial pie, refrigerate it.


National Turkey Federation
Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking, USDA
USDA Top Holiday Resources

Reviewed by Kathy Brandt 2016

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