Before the feast is cooked and the table is set, here's a little appetizer to make the meal go smoothly — five food safety tips for a safe Thanksgiving dinner.
- Don’t wash that turkey! Despite what had been common practice for years, washing a turkey before putting it in the oven or roaster is a bad – and possibly dangerous – idea. Should the bird have any contamination on its surface, hitting the outside with water will make those germs spread across your kitchen and onto other food items that might not get the same thorough heating, like salads, cranberry sauce, etc. There’s no need to wash the bird, just cook it.
- Make sure the turkey is thoroughly thawed before cooking. Putting a frozen or semi-thawed turkey into an oven or roaster is risky business, especially if the stuffing is cooked in the bird’s cavity. It could make for uneven heating, leaving some spots crispy, moist and delicious while others are under-cooked and not as tasty. It’ll also take 50 percent longer to cook all the way through. The best ways to thaw include keeping the bird, in its packaging, in a refrigerator for two or three days before cooking; leave in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes (and taking care not to splash it onto other uncooked food items), or microwave using the defrost setting. The length of time needed to defrost a turkey in the microwave will vary based on weight.
- Use a thermometer. Really. Despite what might be shown on some cooking shows, it is not possible to tell whether a food has been thoroughly cooked just by looking at it. Turkey and other poultry products might look done but could still be raw or under-cooked, putting your guests at risk of getting sick. USDA recommends using at least two digital thermometers, in the breast and leg, to track the internal temperature of the turkey in its thickest parts. This doesn’t mean your turkey will get overcooked, but it will provide an extra layer of security and will be one less thing to worry about as your family or friends gather ‘round the table. When the thermometers hit 165 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re good to go! But let the turkey sit out of the oven for around 20 minutes to ensure cooking has completed before carving.
- Don’t leave dinner out on the table for too long. It takes surprisingly little time for food to start to turn after it’s been cooked. A full turkey dinner can sit out for maybe two hours, tops. At that point, separate all items into individual containers, unless someone’s taking leftovers to-go. Carve the rest of the turkey into smaller portions. Make sure everything’s sealed up tight! If guests are driving any considerable distance, pack the leftovers on ice or in a cooler.
- Wash early and often. Use separate cutting boards for turkey, vegetables, bread, etc., to keep everything safe, and be sure to use hot, soapy water to eliminate any germs that might transfer from item to item. You really can’t be too careful! Also, remember to wash your hands after handling the turkey but before chopping vegetables for a salad or fruit for a side.