November 26, 2002
Jackson hospital urges Mississippians to properly cook Thanksgiving meal
By Lauren Fairburn
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—This Thanksgiving, eat a properly cooked turkey – don’t be one.
Methodist Rehabilitation Center warns improper handling and cooking of the traditional Thanksgiving bird can lead to food borne infections such as E-coli and salmonella.
About 40,000 people each year in the U.S. are infected with salmonella after eating undercooked or poorly prepared food.
“We want to make sure everyone is handling their food properly, frequently washing their hands and making sure their countertops are sanitized,” said John Pelton, director of nutrition services at Methodist Rehab.
Other important safety issues when preparing a turkey include thawing, stuffing and safely storing leftovers, Pelton added.
“You should never thaw your turkey on the countertop because the outer part of the bird will thaw faster than the inside and you’ll end up with a condition favorable for bacteria,” he said. “We think the best idea is to thaw in the refrigerator starting a few days before cooking.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends thawing in the refrigerator 24 hours for each 5 pounds of a whole turkey at a maximum temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So for a 20-pound turkey, expect about four days for it to completely thaw.
Temperatures between 40-165 F are referred to as the Danger Zone for turkey. It’s the time most favorable for bacteria growth and the USDA recommends not letting the turkey stay in this range.
Pelton suggests the following for a safe Thanksgiving:
- Use a meat thermometer to get the accurate temperature of the turkey. If the turkey is stuffed, a thermometer must be used to determine the temperature of the inside cavity. The temperature of a stuffed turkey should be 165 °F and an unstuffed one should be a minimum of 180 °F. Place the thermometer into the inner thigh area near the breast without touching the bone.
- Cook stuffing separately if you do not have a thermometer. For safety, it's best not to stuff a turkey but to bake the stuffing in a casserole dish in a 325 °F oven. Dry ingredients can be mixed in advance. Perishables such as mushrooms, oysters, butter, broth, cooked celery and onions should be refrigerated. The ingredients should be mixed immediately before stuffing the turkey or placing in a casserole dish.
- Pay attention to proper cooking temperature and time. Cooking a turkey for a long period of time at a low temperature may expose it to bacteria growth. The USDA recommends an oven temperature of no less than 325 °F. They also recommend the following cooking times:
Weight of Turkey
8 to 12 lbs.--- 2 ¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 lbs.---3 to 3 ¾ hours
14 to 18 lbs.---3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 lbs.---4 ¼ to 41/2 hours
20 to 24 lbs.--- 4 ½ to 5 hours
Weight of a Stuffed Turkey
8 to 12 lbs. --- 3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 lbs.---3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 lbs.---4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 lbs.---4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 lbs.---4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours
When it comes to eating leftovers, Pelton warns that they too can make you sick if you’re not careful. “People should remember the two-hour rule when storing food,” he said. “Refrigerate all leftovers in containers within two hours of cooking because bacteria will multiply rapidly if left out for too long.”
Goose, duck, rib roast, pork and ham are also very popular at holiday gatherings. The USDA recommends cooking fresh ham and pork roasts to medium (160 F) or well done (170 F). Beef, lamb roasts and veal should be cooked to medium rare (145 F), medium (160 F) or well done (170 F).
Fresh game meats should reach 160 F throughout to kill food-borne bacteria and parasites. Whole game birds as well as domestically raised ducks, geese, capons, Cornish hens, and other chicken should be cooked to the same temperatures as a turkey.
Pelton suggests eating leftovers within three to four days and gravy within a day or two. Freeze any food that won’t be eaten then and always reheat leftovers to a temperature of 165 F.
For more information:
E-coli, salmonella can threaten big feast | The Clarion-Ledger