Carroll County Times
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Tips for a healthy Turkey Day

It's that time again, when families gather round the kitchen table — and argue about how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

How do you thaw it? When is it done? Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Carroll County Health Department have some tips on how to have a safe and delicious turkey day.

For starters, don't wash the meat, said Ryan Spisak, an environmental health specialist with the Health Department.

"Depending on the size of the turkey, water could go everywhere," he said. "If you then chop vegetables next to the sink, you would absolutely cross-contaminate that way."


In fact, according to a USDA news release, water contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria can splash up to 3 feet away from the sink while washing poultry, and that washing is generally unnecessary because proper cooking will kill those bacteria on the bird.

Spisak said the tradition of washing poultry might stem from a time when more people bought fresh turkeys from a farm where they had not been processed and packaged.


"A lot of the time these days you are getting your turkey from the grocery store," he said. "It's not like the farmer plucked it himself and you need to remove some feathers."

Because purchasing a packaged turkey from the store typically means buying it frozen, defrosting that bird in a healthy manner — preventing any part of the bird from sitting in the "danger zone" between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria can multiply — is important, according to USDA recommendations; leaving a turkey out on the counter is therefore asking for trouble. The agency recommends planning ahead and defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator as the best method, planning on it taking 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey.

"But a lot of people don't plan ahead and get their turkey in the fridge on Saturday so it starts thawing," said Leigh Broderick, director of environmental health at the Health Department. "You would want to use the cold water method." That's where you would submerge the still-wrapped turkey in cold tap water, changing it out every half-hour or so until the bird is thawed.

Microwave defrosting can also be used, especially in conjunction with the cold water method, according to the USDA, although Broderick expressed some skepticism at the thought and suggested people not rely on it.

"I don't know how many turkeys can actually fit in a microwave oven," he said.

Once you're cooking, it's important to know when to stop, and both the Health Department officials and the USDA recommend using a meat thermometer, checking in the thickest part of the breast, according to Spisak, and additionally in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, according to the USDA.

"You're looking for 165 [degrees]," Spisak said. "A lot of birds these days have a thing that pops out, and that's a good indicator to check it with a meat thermometer. Those things are pretty close."

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And when the meal is all done, you need to make sure to get foods back in the fridge and cooling down out of the danger zone, with the USDA recommending getting turkey off of the bone and into the fridge within two hours of coming out of the oven.


"If it's a large amount of turkey, gravy or stuffing, in whatever dish of Tupperware container, leave it uncovered in the fridge for the first couple of hours to start the cooling process faster," Spisak said. "If you leave a lid on it while it is still very hot they could come back the next morning and it still be lukewarm."

Leftovers will last up to four days in the refrigerator and up to four months if frozen, according to the USDA.

If you have additional questions on Thanksgiving Day, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854 to speak with a food safety expert.