Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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Turkey tips for a terrific Thanksgiving

Safe food handling guidelines for a healthier holiday

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[November 26, 2008]  SPRINGFIELD -- In preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Damon T. Arnold reminds people of some simple steps they can take to help prevent food-related illnesses.

"As you prepare your Thanksgiving Day feast, there are some tips you can follow to make sure food-related illness doesn't ruin the day," said Dr. Arnold. "It's important to properly thaw and cook your turkey to the appropriate temperature; otherwise, you run the risk of becoming sick. Also, make sure you wash -- with soap and water -- your hands, utensils and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices, to avoid illness."

HardwareIf you want to go with a fresh turkey, buy it no more than two days ahead of the big meal, and make sure you have room to store it in the refrigerator.

If you buy a frozen turkey, make sure to thaw it completely, either in the refrigerator or in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Never defrost a turkey on the kitchen counter.

To thaw in the refrigerator, allow approximately 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey. The turkey should be placed on a tray or pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator safely for one to two days.

To thaw in cold water, allow 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound of turkey.

If the inner cavity is still frozen or even partially frozen when you put the turkey in the oven, the inside temperature will not be hot enough to destroy disease-causing bacteria.

Thawing time in the refrigerator

Size of turkey

Number of days

4-12 pounds

1-3 days

12-16 pounds

3-4 days

16-20 pounds

4-5 days

20-24 pounds

5-6 days

Repair

Thawing time in cold water

Size of turkey

Hours to defrost

4-12 pounds

2-6 hours

12-16 pounds

6-8 hours

16-20 pounds

8-10 hours

20-24 pounds

10-12 hours

It's safer to cook the stuffing separately, but if you do stuff the bird, do so just before cooking it, and stuff it loosely so it cooks thoroughly. If stuffing is mixed the day before the meal, pre-mix only the dry ingredients. Mixing moist ingredients ahead of time allows bacteria the opportunity to grow.

Approximate cooking times for turkey

(Oven temperature 325 degrees F)

Unstuffed

Size of turkey

Cooking time

8-12 pounds

2 3/4 to 3 hours

12-14 pounds

3 to 3 3/4 hours

14-18 pounds

3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours

18-20 pounds

4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours

20-24 pounds

4 1/2 to 5 hours

Stuffed

Size of turkey

Cooking time

8-12 pounds

3 to 3 hours

12-14 pounds

3 1/2 to 4 hours

14-18 pounds

4 to 4 1/4 hours

18-20 pounds

4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours

20-24 pounds

4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours

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To check the temperature of the turkey, insert a meat thermometer into the center of the thickest part of the thigh, breast or stuffing. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees. The stuffing should also reach 165 degrees, whether it is cooked inside the bird or in a separate dish.

All leftovers need to be refrigerated immediately. If they are left to sit for several hours at room temperature, disease-causing bacteria can grow. Also, refrigerate stuffing and other leftovers separate from the bird.

When eating leftovers, they either need to be very cold (directly from the refrigerator) or very hot (at least 165 degrees). Refrigerated turkey and stuffing should be used within three to four days and gravy within a day or two.

[Text from Illinois Department of Public Health file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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