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News Release

Release No. 0561.09
Contact:
Diane Van 301-344-4777
Kathy Bernard 301-344-4746
FSIS Food Safety Education Staff

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PREPARING FOR A SAFE AND EASY THANKSGIVING DINNER - ONE DAY AT A TIME

WASHINGTON, November 10, 2009 – Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be a wonderful experience, yet daunting for those planning it. The goal is to have a safe and delicious turkey dinner, and if planned one day at a time, it can be a fun and memorable experience.

A good way to start is one week before the big day – on Thursday, November 19 at 3 p.m. ET – join the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a live Facebook chat featuring a holiday food safety expert from its Food Safety and Inspection Service. Members of the public can submit questions about safe preparation of the holiday meal—turkey, stuffing and other holiday favorites--and get live answers right on the USDA Facebook page. For more information about the chat or to submit questions in advance, visit the USDA Live page at http://www.usda.gov/live and become a fan of USDA on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usdaThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. .

To ensure a successful and safe celebration this Thanksgiving, USDA recommends a Thanksgiving countdown. Ahead of the Nov. 19 Facebook chat you can:

  • Plan your menu and gather recipes.
  • Check your pantry to see what you have.
  • Make a shopping list of needed ingredients.
  • Check to make sure you have all the equipment you will need, including a roasting pan large enough to hold your turkey or meat.
  • Buy a food thermometer if you don't already have one.
  • Start using foods that are taking up space in your refrigerator and freezer to make sure you have plenty of room for your turkey, ham, or roast and other dishes.

Thanksgiving (T) minus 6 (Friday): If you decided to buy a frozen bird and haven't purchased it yet, buy it today so you have adequate time to thaw it in the refrigerator. For thawing a frozen turkey, move it into your refrigerator now. Leave the frozen bird in its original wrapper and place it on a tray to catch any juices that may leak from the package as the turkey thaws. Bacteria in poultry juices can cross-contaminate other foods that will be eaten without further cooking or that are already cooked, possibly causing foodborne illness. Allow approximately 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 16-pound turkey would take 3 to 4 days to thaw. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking. Purchase fresh turkey only one to two days before cooking.

T minus 5 (Saturday): Do a thorough cleaning job on your refrigerator and the appliances needed for preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Sanitize all countertops and cutting boards using a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

If using an electric roaster oven, bring it into the kitchen and make sure it is working. If smoking a turkey, have adequate charcoal and/or other fuels.

T minus 4 (Sunday): Set the table including serving dishes and utensils, and round up the needed chairs. Plan your Thanksgiving Day cooking timetable based on the size of your turkey or other meats. For cooking timetables and more information, go to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/index.asp , "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

T minus 3 (Monday): Make vegetable side dishes and breads ahead of time. Store the side dishes in the refrigerator (40 °F or below).

T minus 2 (Tuesday): If buying a fresh turkey, this is the day to bring it home from the store. If you forgot to thaw the frozen turkey or don't have room in the refrigerator for thawing, don't panic. You can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Cook immediately after thawing.

T minus 1 (Wednesday): No. Don't even think of pulling an all-nighter with your turkey. It's not safe to cook a turkey all night at 200 °F. The minimum oven temperature is 325 °F to ensure any bacteria are destroyed.

Check again to make sure you have all the ingredients you need to prepare your holiday meal. Although stores are probably crowded, buying needed ingredients now is essential.

Prepare wet and dry stuffing ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate them separately. Don't combine the ingredients until just before cooking the stuffing – inside or outside the turkey.

T (Thanksgiving Day)

If you still need to thaw your turkey, microwave thawing is probably your only option now. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven, the minutes per pound, and the power level to use for thawing. Cook immediately after thawing.

If you plan to stuff your turkey, mix the wet and dry stuffing ingredients just before placing the stuffing inside the turkey cavity or into a casserole dish. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Stuff your turkey loosely and place it in the oven immediately. Lacking a thermometer, cook the stuffing separately.

Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of turkey and stuffing. A cooked whole turkey is safe at a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F throughout the bird and stuffing. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, wing, the thickest part of the breast and the stuffing. To see how to check the internal temperature, go to: www.fsis.usda.gov

All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 °F. When turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey.

After Thanksgiving dinner, cut the leftover turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.

On Thanksgiving Day, consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov (English) or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time (English and Spanish). Listen to timely recorded food safety messages at the same number 24 hours a day. Visit the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov .

Normal, non-holiday business hours for the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. E-mail questions to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov . Follow us on Twitter for the latest food safety news and tips at http://www.twitter.com/USDAfoodsafetyThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. .

More food safety tips for cooks preparing holiday meals can be found at the Partnership for Food Safety Education's new web site, www.holidayfoodsafety.orgThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. . The site includes food shopping and preparation tips, recipes, and food safety advice and activities and a Holiday Food Safety Success Kit prepared by USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)/Food and Drug Administration to address consumer concerns about safe food preparation.

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