Cooking up a safe Thanksgiving

Article Published: Nov. 25, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Cooking up a safe Thanksgiving

State health officials are reminding North Carolina residents of a few tips for a safely prepared holiday meal.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources stresses five major components of preparation to prevent food-borne illnesses - clean, separate, cook, chill and discard.

The cook should wash hands and cutting surfaces thoroughly with soap and water often throughout the meal preparation. Bacteria can spread from knives, cutting boards and hands.

DENR recommends using paper towels instead of sponges to clean surfaces, as sponges can trap and hold bacteria.

Raw and uncooked food should be kept in a separate area from prepared dishes to prevent contamination of the finished dishes. Cutting boards, utensils and platters used for raw foods should washed in hot, soapy water prior to use for ready-to-eat foods.

It is important to cook foods to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. Using a food thermometer, ensure turkey is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. This temperature should register in the thigh, wing and thickest part of the breast. Casseroles containing eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees at the thickest section. Food temperatures should not drop below 135 degrees to prevent the growth of bacteria. Food should never be partially cooked and finished at a later time.

Refrigerate foods within two hours. This includes meats, cooked vegetables and custard pies. Large portions of meat should be carved into sections no thicker than four inches to cool quickly.
Any food left out at room temperature for more than four hours should be discarded.

DENR also warns against consuming raw cookie dough or batter made with eggs, due to possible presence of the bacteria that causes salmonellosis. The same goes for eggnog made with raw eggs or unpasteurized cider or juices.

Turkey Tips
Buying a fresh or frozen turkey is a preference, however, there are different handling instructions for each. A fresh turkey should be purchased no more than two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in a container to prevent contamination from the juices. A frozen turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator slowly, allowing 24 hours for every five pounds. A container should also be used for thawing. A securely wrapped turkey may thawed in cold water, but the water should be changed every 30 minutes and the turkey cooked immediately after thawing.

Thawing the turkey completely is very important. If not fully thawed, the outside will be done before the inside reaches the 165-degree safe temperature.

The safest way to prepare stuffing is outside the turkey, but if stuffed, cooking times will vary. Regardless of whether the stuffing is inside or outside, it must reach a minimum temperature of 165 degrees in the center.

Did You Know?

- At one time, the turkey and the bald eagle were each considered as the national symbol of America. Benjamin Franklin was one of those who argued passionately on behalf of the turkey. Franklin felt the turkey, although "vain and silly", was a better choice than the bald eagle, whom he felt was "a coward".

- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving-that's one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year. American per capita consumption of turkeys has soared from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 18.5 pounds in 1997. Ten years later, the number has dropped slightly in 2007 to 17.5 pounds.

- In 2008, more than 250 million turkeys were raised with an average liveweight per bird of 28 pounds with nearly 6 billion pounds of turkey processed. By contrast, in 1970, only 105 million birds were raised with an average liveweight of 17 pounds and 1.5 billion pounds processed. The turkeys produced in 2008 together weighed 7.9 billion pounds and were valued at $4.5 billion.

- In 2002, retail sales of turkey was approximately $3.6 billion. Forecasts for 2009 expect sales to reach $3.8 billion.

- Age is a determining factor in taste. Old, large males are preferable to young toms (males) as tom meat is stringy. The opposite is true for females: old hens are tougher birds.

- A turkey under sixteen weeks of age is called a fryer, while a young roaster is five to seven months old.

- Turkeys are the only breed of poultry native to the Western Hemisphere.

- Turkeys have great hearing, but no external ears. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision (about 270 degrees), which makes sneaking up on them difficult. However, turkeys have a poor sense of smell (what's cooking?), but an excellent sense of taste.


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