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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI talks turkey basics for Thanksgiving

KINGSTON, R.I. -- November 18, 1998 --The holiday that turkeys wish would disappear is quickly approaching. URI food science specialist Laurie Pivarnik offers the following food safety tips for a happy, and healthy Thanksgiving:

"The Big Thaw"

Safe Defrosting: Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during "the big thaw." While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to defrost, any bacteria which may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again. A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the "danger zone" between 40 and 140 F-a temperature when foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Refrigerator Thawing

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, there are several variables to take into account:

Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40F.

Some areas of an appliance may keep the food colder than others. A turkey placed in the coldest part will require a longer defrosting time.

Microwave Thawing

Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present would not have been destroyed.

Cold Water Thawing

Allow about 30 minutes per pound. First be sure the food is in a leak proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, bacteria from the surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Immerse the turkey in cold tap water. Check the water frequently to be sure it stays cold. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.

Safe Cooking

Roasting instructions for safety and doneness

1. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 F. Preheating is not necessary.

2. Be sure the turkey is completely thawed.

3. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep.

4. If a meat thermometer is not available, cook stuffing in a casserole.

5. For safety and doneness, the internal temperature should be checked with a meat thermometer. The temperature must reach 180 F in the thigh of a whole turkey (center of the stuffing should reach 165 F) before removing it from the oven. Cook a turkey breast to 170 F.

6. Juices should be clear. In the absence of a meat thermometer, pierce an unstuffed turkey with a fork several places; juices should be clear with no trace of pink.

7. Let the bird stand 20 minutes before removing stuffing and carving.

Handling Cooked Dinners

Take-out Dinners Hot from the Oven

Pick up the food HOT---and keep it HOT. Keeping foods warm is not enough. Harmful bacteria multiply fastest between 40 and 140 F.

Set oven temperature high enough to keep the turkey at 140 F or above. (Use a meat thermometer.) Stuffing and side dishes must also stay HOT. Covering with foil will help keep the food moist.

Reheating a Whole Turkey is NOT Recommended.

If you plan to reheat a turkey, cut the meat off the bone. Slice breast meat. Legs and wings may be left whole. Refrigerate in shallow containers. Exception: Cooked turkeys with the USDA inspection seal on the packaging have been processed under controlled conditions. Follow package directions for reheating and storing.

Storage of Leftovers

Refrigerator (40 F or slightly below)

Cooked Turkey ---------------3 to 4 days

Stuffing and Gravy ---------- 1 to 2 days

Other Cooked Dishes --------- 3 to 4 days

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For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 874-2116


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