Let's Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving food safety tips issued by US Department of Agriculture

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means you likely have turkey on the brain.

But cooking the bird properly can be tricky, especially for those who are inexperienced. And an undercooked turkey can sometimes spell foodborne illness.

That's why the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a range of resources — from smartphone apps to a "meat and poultry hotline" — to help guide consumers safely through the holiday season.

"Unsafe handling and undercooking of your turkey can lead to serious foodborne illness," said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza, in a press release. "USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has a variety of food safety resources to help with any questions related to preparing Thanksgiving dinner, including our Meat and Poultry Hotline that will be staffed with helpful experts on Thanksgiving Day."

According to the USDA, there are only three ways to safely thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. That means thawing yours on the kitchen counter, outside or in the garage is a food safety no-no.

Meat and poultry have to be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to keep bacteria from growing. So be sure to plan ahead, as birds thawed in cold water or in the microwave will have to be cooked immediately. If you choose the refrigerator, a 20- to 24-pound turkey will take about five to six days to thaw. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

To cook your turkey like a pro, the USDA recommends using a food thermometer in three places: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. Once the internal temperature in all three places has reached a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it's safe to take out of the oven to serve to your family and friends.

The USDA also recommends keeping the FoodKeeper app handy when rummaging through your pantry, refrigerator or freezer for other ingredients.

This mobile app offers storage advice on more than 400 different food and beverage items, which can help you decide what is safe to use and what you should throw away. It also offers guidance on safe ways to keep your leftovers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from consuming contaminated food or beverages each year.

According to the CDC, raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and raw shellfish are the foods most likely to be contaminated.

Review Date: 
November 20, 2015