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Turkey Safety Tips from Pinal County Public Health

Pinal County Public Health Services District would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Holidays are times we share the kitchen with family and friends. Here are some tips that all cooks can follow this holiday season for cooking a delicious and safely prepared turkey. When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to adequate temperature.

Safe Thawing

Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 41°F and 130°F - the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. As soon as a frozen turkey starts to thaw, bacteria present become viable and can multiply. The best way to avoid a problem when thawing a turkey is to plan ahead and place the turkey in the refrigerator a few days prior to cooking. If that is not possible, other safe alternatives include thawing in cold running water, or in a microwave oven. Never thaw a turkey by leaving it out on the counter or in standing water for an extended period of time.

Safe Preparation

Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw turkey can then be transferred to other foods. Even if you cook the turkey, some of the other foods may not be cooked and may be contaminated. This is called cross contamination. After working with raw poultry, meat or fish always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods. When washing your hands, be sure to use warm water, and lather with soap for 20 seconds. To be extra safe, you can sanitize utensils and surfaces with a solution of one teaspoon of household bleach per gallon of water.

Safe Stuffing

The safest way to prepare stuffing is to cook it outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, many people enjoy traditional stuffing roasted inside the turkey. If you place stuffing inside the turkey, it should be cooked to the same temperature as the turkey itself. Add stuffing to the body cavity just before cooking. Ensure the stuffing is thoroughly cooked using a food thermometer. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.

Safe Cooking

Whether you roast, fry, or smoke your turkey, the best way to ensure it is fully cooked is to check the temperature with a food thermometer. Verify the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. The turkey and stuffing must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Food thermometers not only help us to ensure the food is cooked thoroughly, but also help us prevent overcooking.

Pinal County Public Health Services District has a goal to prevent disease, promote health, and provide nutrition services to the residents of Pinal County. The Environmental Health Services Division conducts inspections of permitted facilities, monitors the community for disease vectors, and investigates public health nuisance complaints. If you would like more information on our programs, or to file a complaint, please call 866-287-0209.

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