WHITE PLAINS, NY -- Don’t wing it – follow expert advice from the health department to safely prepare and cook your Thanksgiving feast and avoid food borne illnesses.
“When you’re rushing to get a big holiday meal on the table, it’s easy to make a mistake or take a shortcut that could cause your guests to become ill,” said Sherlita Amler, MD, Commissioner of Health. “Follow our safe food handling and cooking tips so that your guests will remember their visit and the meal for all the right reasons.”
Frequent hand washing by the chef is essential to safe food handling.
“Thoroughly wash your hands after you touch raw poultry and before you handle any ready to serve foods,” said Peter DeLucia, Assistant Commissioner of Public Health Protection. “Follow these six tips and you’ll be sure to serve a safe and healthy holiday meal.”
Thaw - Never defrost a turkey by leaving it out at room temperature. Frozen turkeys must be thawed in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. To eliminate any chance of cross contamination, don’t place a thawing turkey or any raw meat (even if commercially wrapped) in a spot where it could drip on any ready to serve foods such as fresh fruit or vegetables that will not be cooked before serving.
Separate and Prepare - Bacteria on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. Use a separate cutting board for all raw meat and poultry preparation. Keep raw turkey away from vegetables and side dishes that will not be cooked. When preparing food, wash hands, surfaces, and utensils often with hot, soapy water to avoid spreading harmful bacteria.
Stuff - To avoid undercooked stuffing that can cause a food borne illness, bake stuffing separately in a shallow pan, where it can quickly reach 165°F. Many food borne outbreaks have been caused by stuffed, roasted turkey. This occurs because it takes a long time for heat to penetrate deep into the cavity so bacteria can survive inside the bird. If you must stuff the turkey, do it immediately before placing in the oven.
Cook -Turkeys should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. How long it will take depends on oven temperature, temperature fluctuation and turkey weight. The safest way to be sure the bird is fully cooked is to use a 0 to 220 degree probe thermometer to check the turkey’s internal temperature by inserting the probe thermometer deep into the turkey’s thigh. If you do decide to stuff your turkey, check the internal temperature of the stuffing as well; it should also be at least 165 degrees.
Properly Cool Leftovers - Improper cooling practices are one of the most frequent causes of food borne illness. Leftover turkey, stuffing and other items should be refrigerated within two hours from the time you remove the turkey from the oven. Soups and stocks should be cooled in the refrigerator, uncovered in shallow pans. They can then be transferred to large covered vessels after reaching refrigerator temperature. Be sure not to pack your refrigerator so tightly that the cool air can’t circulate. Avoid filling containers with food deeper than four inches and then stacking multiple containers on top of each other. Once the food is cooled to less than 45°F, it is safe to stack.
Reheat – Leftovers, including turkey meat, stuffing and stock should be reheated to at least 165°F before serving. (Make sure to use your metal stem probe thermometer to check.)