Cooking Safety for Turkeys at Holiday Meals

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The winter holiday season has many people cooking foods that they only work with once or twice a year. For example, Thanksgiving turkeys may be a tradition, but how often do you cook a whole bird outside of that one day? Understanding the keys to creating a flavorful meal is only part of the equation, as you also need to make sure that everything is prepared safely. To help make sure you meet all of the latest safety standards, here are some holiday cooking tips focused solely on food safety.

Cooking Safety for Turkeys at Holiday Meals

Properly Thaw the Turkey

Cooking a turkey safely is a multistep process. First, you need to make sure the bird is thawed properly. Depending on the size of your turkey, and the amount of time you have available to complete the thawing process, you can choose from a variety of methods. Many people choose the thaw using their refrigerator, while others use a sink full of cold water that gets changed every 30 minutes. You can even thaw a frozen turkey in your microwave. However, you should never just sit a turkey on a counter to thaw, as the temperature of the turkey will fall into the danger zone when bacterial growth can occur quickly.

Be Careful with Stuffing

Putting stuffing into the cavity of the turkey can prevent the bird and stuffing from reaching a safe temperature to kill any bacteria. The easiest way to avoid the issue is to cook stuffing separately in a casserole dish, or by using a food thermometer to make sure the internal temperature of the stuffing reaches at least 165 degrees in the center.

If you do stuff the turkey, make sure to leave the stuffing in the bird for at least 20 minutes once the turkey is removed from the oven.

Cooking the Turkey

To properly cook a turkey, you need to set the oven at a temperature of at least 325 degrees. Use a roasting pan that is at least 2 inches deep, and cook the bird with the breast up. The weight of the bird will determine the total cooking time and can be determined based on the information provided on the packaging. Like the stuffing, the internal temperature of all parts of the bird must reach at least 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the thickest parts of the breasts, thighs, and wings. Make sure to allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes after it has been removed from the over before you proceed with carving. If using an electric smoker, please read this guide.

Handling Food Poisoning

If the turkey is improperly cooked, there is a higher risk of food poisoning. In most cases, the person may experience nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea is also possible. If vomiting or diarrhea is severe, there is a risk of becoming dehydrated. Make sure and drink plenty of water by taking small sips. If severe belly pain occurs, dark or bloody stools, prolonged or bloody vomit or various signs of dehydration occur, it is best to contact a doctor immediately.

If you have health insurance, make sure to bring your information if possible. If not, check into available options (such as through and see what may be available to you.

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