Well folks it is that time of year again. I am not talking about the end of the semester, however that does sound wonderful! I am talking about major holidays. Children are excited to see Santa and make their Christmas list. Stores are ready to make bank on all the black Friday deals and Christmas music will be playing on every radio station from now until New Years. Every year I am puzzled and think the same thing, why do we bypass each holiday? It seems like before Halloween with are thinking about Thanksgiving, before Thanksgiving we are thinking about Christmas, before Christmas we are thinking about New Years and so on and so on. Do not get me wrong, I am guilty of wishing my life way at times, but let us not forget about one of my favorite holidays of all time, Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is a time to come together with your family and celebrate each other. It is a time to give thanks to the blessings in your life. On this day you can sit down for dinner with your family and overindulge on all of the food and it is completely acceptable. Who would want to miss out on that opportunity? So for now, let us forget Christmas and black Friday deals. Let us focus on what is most important, food! (….. I meant to say family!)
I know for my family, the turkey is the most important food item we serve. All of our side dishes are based around this feathery creature. If this is true for you and you have been designated as the honorary chef for your family, it is important that you keep yourself and your family safe.
Cooking a turkey can take some time and effort. Undercooking and unsafe handling of this delight can cause foodborne illnesses. That is something we don’t want! Let’s focus on some tips to help us prepare the bird in a safe way. The United States Department of Argiculture (USDA) breaks this down for us into 5 steps and these include thawing, cleaning, separating, cooking and chilling. Let us take a closer look at each step.
Step 1-Thawing: The USDA recommends thawing the bird in one of three ways. You can thaw the bird via refrigerator, cold water or microwave. However the USDA recommends thawing the bird via refrigerator. If you choose to thaw with this method, keep in mind that for every 4-5 pounds of bird equals 24 hours of thawing time in the refrigerator. If you choose to thaw via cold water, you will want to place the bird in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. It is also important to remember to cook the bird immediately after thawing with this method. The final way to thaw a turkey is by the microwave. This method depends on the size of the turkey. You will want to defrost according to the weight and you will want to cook immediately after thawing.
Step 2- Cleaning: Once the turkey is thawed, the next step is to clean it. Unlike fruits and veggies, the bird cannot actually be cleaned! The only way to destroy potentially dangerous bacteria is to cook the bird. However, it is important to remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap and warm water. It is also important to make sure your utensils, plates, counter tops, and cutting boards are thoroughly washed.
Step 3- Separate: Make sure the turkey is separate from fresh foods. You can achieve this by using a different cutting board, plate and utensils to prepare the turkey. If a dish touches the raw turkey, wash the dish with warm water and soap.
Step 4- Cook: This is probably the most important step to be cautious about. It is vital to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, also if you have stuffing in the turkey, the stuffing should reach 165 degrees F as well. How do you check the internal temperature? You can do so by testing 3 parts of the turkey with a cooking thermometer. The first part you will want to test is going to be the thickest part of the breast. The second place to test will be the inner part of the wing and the last place you will test will be the inner part of the thigh. Once all three of these areas reach the proper temperature, your bird is safe to serve!….. Well you might want to let it cool down first.
Step 5- Chill: This step is just as important as cooking if you choose to save the leftovers! It is important to get those left overs in the refrigerator within 2 hours after the turkey has been cooked. You can store the leftover turkey in the fridge for 3-4 days. If you choose to freeze the leftovers for a later date, you can actually keep the meat frozen safely for 2-6 months. Also reheating the leftovers follows the same guidelines as cooking, they should be reheated to a temperature of 165 degrees F.
Keep in mind that bacteria can be very vicious because you cannot see it, smell it or taste it. Now that we know how to safely handle our bird, we can have a nutritious dinner! I hope that each one of you has a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving! For more information on food safety, you can visit foodsafety.gov.
What is your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?