Team Robins: Put food safety on Thanksgiving menu

  • Published
  • By Quenna Davis-Martin
  • Robins Installation Safety Office

Thanksgiving meals are some of the largest prepared each year and come with a significant amount of stress. Preparing large meals requires the cook to juggle many “different pots” at the same time but getting the turkey roasted just right is main objective of most cooks. Whether you’re a skilled chef or this is your first time roasting a turkey, you can follow these tips to make sure your Thanksgiving meal is successful and safe.

Before cooking your turkey, read the label carefully. Temperature labels show if the turkey is fresh or frozen.  If you chose a fresh turkey, it should not be bought more than two days before it roasted.  Frozen turkeys are safe for much longer, however, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends three safe ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. After you purchase your turkey, it should be taken home and put in the freezer. Frozen turkeys should not be left in the car trunk, on your counter or any place else the temperature is not below freezing. 

When refrigerator thawing, allow 24 hours for each 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40°F or less. The turkey should be placed in a dish to prevent thawed juices from contaminating other foods. Remember a 25-pound turkey will take about 6 days to thaw in the refrigerator. Once thawed, it should be cooked within 2 days.

If you are cold water thawing a turkey, it takes 30 minutes per pound of turkey. The turkey should be in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerged in cold tap water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed, and the turkey should be cooked immediately after thawing. A 25-pound turkey will take about 12 hours to thaw by this method.

If you are thawing by microwave, follow the microwave manufacturer recommendation. The turkey should be cooked immediately because some areas of the turkey may be warm or partially cooked allowing bacteria to grow if left sitting.

When it is time to cook the turkey, wash your hands before touching any food items. Do not wash the turkey as it spreads pathogens to other food surfaces. Keep raw turkey away from all other food items and wash all items used in preparing the turkey in hot soapy water. Remember that the only way to kill bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses is to fully cook the turkey. The turkey should be cooked until it reaches 165°F and is completely done throughout the thickest parts of the meat.

After dinner, leftovers should not remain sitting. They should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent the growth of bacteria. Stuffing should be removed from inside the turkey and stored separately. Turkey should be removed from the bone and placed in shallow containers for storage. Do not eat leftovers more than 3 or 4 days old. Leftovers can be frozen and consumed later. For guests who may live more than two hours away, use a cooler to send leftovers home. If in doubt the food has been stored improperly, discard it immediately.

Remember to keep Thanksgiving safe for your pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that eating turkey or turkey skin, even a small amount, can cause life threatening pancreatitis in a pet. Chocolate and artificial sweeteners can be deadly if consumed by cats or dogs. Put the turkey carcass and anything used to tie or wrap the meat, including strings, bags, foils, and packaging, in a trash bag and place it in a garbage container that is unreachable by your pet.

Lastly, the National Fire Protection Association, states the Thanksgiving is the peak day for home fires. Cooking equipment was involved in almost half of all reported home fires and home fire injuries, and it is the second leading cause of home fire deaths. Always stay in the kitchen when you are stovetop cooking and don’t wear loose-fitting clothing that can pose a fire hazard when reaching around stovetops. Keep children away from the stove and the floor clear of tripping hazards. Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child. Unplug crockpots, hot plates, coffee pots and other warming items when not in use.  Ensure you have a fire extinguisher on hand and that your smoke alarms are in proper working order.  

Thanksgiving is a hectic but joyous time. Remembering to follow simple Thanksgiving Day safety tips will ensure you and your loved ones enjoy safe holiday season.