Since Thanksgiving is that time of the year when people get busy in the kitchen preparing for holiday meals that family and friends feast together, it also pays to be especially careful when preparing and cooking the holiday staple, turkey, to avoid the inconveniences of food poisoning.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that about 48 million Americans or about one in six suffer from food poisoning each year. Of these, about 3,000 die from food-borne illness.
If you think that safety practices must be observed starting from when you are preparing the turkey for cooking, you are wrong. Fighting against food poisoning starts right from when you shop for the turkey at the store. See to it that the bird is separated from other goods in your shopping cart.
"It's important to try to keep raw meats separate from produce items and other foods," advised Karen Killinger, a food specialist from the Washington State University.
The CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also provided some guidelines to safely prepare and cook turkey.
Thawing the turkey requires keeping it at a safe temperature because between 40 and 140°F, the so called "danger zone," foodborne bacteria multiply fast. The safest ways to thaw food would be in the refrigerator, in cold water and in microwave oven. Liz Compton, from the USDA, said that the best way to defrost turkey in the refrigerator is at a rate of one day per five pounds of the poultry's weight.
Washing the hands thoroughly and often is also a good practice when preparing food but experts frown on washing the turkey. USDA's Chris Bernstein said it isn't advisable to wash the turkey because this will splash the pathogens around the sink and counter.
Experts also recommend cooking the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees as this kills salmonella, a common cause of food poisoning. It is also a good idea to use a meat thermometer because this would help avoid instances of undercooked meat, which can be dangerous.
"Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F," the CDC said.
Experts also recommended cooking the stuffing in a separate pan rather than inside the turkey.