Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. What’s not to love about family and some of the best food you will ever taste? I can give some thanks for that. As a food science major here at K-State, I am fully aware of the food safety practices that prevent some of those harmful bacteria from enjoying the turkey before we do. I know my family doesn’t always follow them and to be honest it makes me cringe! Just a little fun fact, when you believe you have the stomach flu, you most likely have food poisoning. It’s strange how food poisoning can be so different just by the type of bacteria you consume. They differ in the amount of time it takes to affect you, how long it lasts, and the not-so-fun symptoms that they give you. So let’s discuss how you can avoid ruining your lovely Thanksgiving feast. We don’t need a scene like Clark Griswold carving the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, now do we?
Let’s start at the grocery store. As you make your grocery store run, don’t pick up your frozen bird until right before you head to the checkout line. If you pick up the turkey first and then wander the aisles, the turkey is going to start to thaw. As the meat gets to room temperature, bacteria can grow and multiply. That’s right folks; in that short amount of time those hardy little bacteria will start to grow. You’re starting to think of Clark Griswold aren’t you? So, don’t forget to put your Butterball bird in the freezer when you get home!
Thawing the turkey is another issue to tackle. The USDA recommends putting your turkey in the fridge one to two days before the big meal. A rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time in the fridge for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Also, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t ever ever ever wash the turkey. Did you get that? Washing raw meat and poultry will only spread bacteria around your kitchen and sink. Gross, right?
Now let’s cook this bad boy. Now that your turkey is thawed (or it should be), place it in the oven. You will need a thermometer to make sure that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The places to check are the innermost part of the thigh, the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. If you stuff your turkey, there are a few rules to follow here too. Stuffing should also be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit regardless if it is in a turkey or not. As you know, stuffing the turkey is pretty darn messy and as you can imagine, you’re contaminating your hands and risking contaminating the rest of the food by handling the raw turkey. If you must stuff your turkey, have all of the utensils and ingredients ready to go before you start and for the love of turkey, please wash your hands!
Lastly, after you have consumed way too much food and as hard as it may be to get up, I beg you to refrigerate the leftovers. Food that is left out for more than two hours may become contaminated and should be thrown out. It would be a sin to throw out the food so just refrigerate the goodness. Now that I have freaked you out about nasty bacteria, I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving!