Enjoy Holiday Food, but Don't Forget Food Safety, Plus Q & A

Released: 10/26/2007 1:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Kansas State University Research and Extension
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Newswise — The Thanksgiving menu - turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans - typically stays pretty much the same. Two food safety recommendations for cooking the meal changed last year, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service eliminated the recommendation for washing raw meat and poultry, including raw turkey, before placing it in the oven. It also adjusted the cooked temperature to 165 degrees F. for all poultry products, Blakeslee said.

The practice of rinsing the raw turkey in cool running water is no longer recommended, Blakeslee said. Eliminating this step reduces the risk of cross contamination from rinse water being splashed around the sink and on the adjoining counter. Heat during the roasting process will kill any bacteria, if present.

The cooked temperature recommendation - 165 degrees - standardizes the recommendations for cooking poultry. Previously, the USDA recommended different temperatures for poultry parts such as breasts, thighs, and wings.

The only sure way to tell if meat and poultry are cooked to recommended temperatures is by using a food thermometer, Blakeslee said. Information about choosing and using a meat thermometer is available on the K-State Research and Extension Web site: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety/fst.htm.

Meat thermometers are available at hardware, kitchenware, discount and department stores and at many supermarkets.

One thing that hasn't changed, Blakeslee said, is the relatively modest cost of the holiday meal. The American Farm Bureau Federation reported that, in 2006, the average cost of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people was $38.10. The menu included turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, peas, rolls with butter, cranberries, relish tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee or milk as a beverage.

More information on nutrition and health and choosing and preparing holiday foods, is available at on: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu and http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety.

Answers to frequently-asked holiday cooking questions simplify meal planning, preparation

An offer to host a holiday meal need not add unnecessary stress, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.

Slow-roasting the turkey allows plenty of time to set the table, arrange the relishes or peel the potatoes, she said.

"Traditional Thanksgiving menus also can be easily divided so guests can share in the preparation and lighten the load for holiday hosts," said Blakeslee, a Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist. In her role as the Rapid Response Coordinator, Blakeslee spends many of her working hours answering questions from county extension agents about food and food safety. Here is a sampling of frequently-asked questions about choosing and preparing a turkey and storing leftovers and her answers:

Q: Which is better, fresh or frozen turkey?

A: The taste of fresh and frozen turkeys is comparable. Consumers may, however, be able to purchase a frozen turkey at a pre-holiday sale price to save money. Fresh turkeys may need to be ordered and then picked up a day or two before they will be cooked.

Q: How much turkey should I buy?

A: The general rule in buying a bone-in turkey is to allow one pound per person. If additional white meat is preferred, consider buying a larger turkey or an additional turkey breast.

Q: Is there a best way to thaw a frozen turkey?

A: To thaw, place a frozen turkey (in its store wrap) in a shallow pan or on a baking sheet (with a lip to catch drips) in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing time for each 4-5 pounds of turkey.

Q: Is there a faster way to thaw a frozen turkey?

A: Consumers who may have forgotten to put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw can use a cold-water method: Submerge the turkey (in its store wrap) in cold water in a clean, large sink or bathtub. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time per pound. Drain and replace cold water every 30 minutes during the thawing process.

Follow manufacturer's instructions to thaw a smaller frozen turkey or turkey breast in a microwave oven. Thawing meat and poultry products in a microwave oven begins the cooking process, which will then need to be continued immediately.

Q: What's in the bag in the neck and/or cavity?

A: Turkey parts, such as the neck or giblets, a word that describes the heart, liver and gizzard (edible parts of the turkey), are typically packaged in a paper bag and placed in the neck or body cavity. The bag should be removed before cooking. The neck can be cooked alongside the turkey. The giblets should be cooked separately and may be used in dressing or gravy.

If you forget to remove the parts before cooking, it is possible to save them. Most giblets are wrapped in an oven-safe paper and will be safe to use. If they are wrapped in plastic, the plastic may melt into the turkey and leave an off odor. If so, the giblets should not be used.

Q: Why a hock lock?

A: The hock lock secures the turkey legs after processing. It can be left on, but removing it allows more even roasting.

Q: Is it possible to cook a turkey from a frozen state?

A: Yes, but according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, cooking a turkey (in the oven) from a frozen state will take at least 50 percent longer than cooking a fully thawed turkey. The giblet pack will need to be removed (with tongs or a long-handled fork) during cooking time. The USDA does not recommend smoking, grilling, deep fat frying or microwaving a whole frozen turkey.

Q: Is it possible to roast a turkey without a roaster?

A: Roasting a turkey requires a large, shallow pan (2-inches deep, for example) that is larger than the turkey (to catch turkey juices). Using a V-rack, which can be purchased with a pan or separately, will lift the turkey up from the bottom of the pan and allow air to circulate in the cooking process. Place the turkey in the pan breast side up; tuck wing tips under the shoulders.

An aluminum foil tent can be used in place of a lid during the first 90 minutes of roasting time to help the heat circulate and, toward the end of cooking, to protect the turkey from overbrowning or drying out. Adding a half cup of water to the bottom of the pan also will help keep the turkey from drying out.

Q: What is the recommended roasting time and temperature?

A: Set the oven at 325 degrees F. oven and allow 20 minutes per pound. Add 45 minutes for a stuffed turkey, and about 15-20 minutes for a turkey to set up after it has tested done (165 degrees) to make carving easier. (Keep the turkey covered during holding time.) Roasting is a slow process, so it's not necessary to preheat the oven.

Q: Is it possible to cook a turkey at a low temperature overnight?

A: Cooking a turkey overnight at 200 degrees F. and then holding it until serving time is not recommended. At 200 degrees F., meat remains in the so-called "Danger Zone" between 40 and 140 degrees F., in which foodborne bacteria can multiply rapidly and form toxins.

Also, holding a safely cooked turkey at a safe internal temperature of 140 degrees F for long periods of time can dry out the cooked turkey and affect food quality and taste. If preparing a turkey in advance of the intended serving time, carve the turkey and place it in shallow containers with covers before refrigerating it. Serve the turkey cold or reheat it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal cooked temperature.

Q: How should I use a meat thermometer?

Q: With a whole turkey, insert the thermometer probe into the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast, but not touching the bone. With a turkey breast, insert the probe in the thickest part of the breast, with care not to touch the bone. The USDA recommends a cooked temperature of 165 degrees.

Instructions for using a meat thermometer vary, as thermometers range from a modestly priced probe to more costly high-tech gadgets. Follow manufacturer's instructions.

Q: Will a pop-up timer do?

A: Pop-up timers packaged with a turkey have a short probe that isn't usually deep enough to get an accurate temperature reading.

Q: Is there an easy way to carve a turkey?

A: Carving a turkey in the kitchen can be easier - and less intimidating - than carving the turkey at the dinner table. To begin, cut off the legs, wings and thighs at the joints. To remove the breast meat one side at a time, cut the meat away from the breast bone and then make a horizontal cut (similar to a quarter cut on a circle) so meat can be sliced easily.

Q: Should all meat be removed from the carcass before the meal?

A: Removing the meat from the carcass after the meal is recommended. Wrap and refrigerate the carcass (if it will be used for soup stock) separately from the meat, which should be stored in a shallow pan (2-inches deep, for example), covered.

Q: Why is it necessary to store leftovers in a shallow pan? And, why covered?

A: Placing leftovers in a shallow pan allows fast, uniform cooling. Covering leftovers prevents flavor migration and reduces the risk of cross contamination.

Q: How quickly should leftovers be used?

A: Three days is the general rule. If leftovers will not be used within three days, they should be wrapped, labeled, and dated before being frozen for a future meal. If well wrapped, cooked turkey generally freezes well for three to four months.

Q: Should leftovers be reheated?

A: Turkey may be eaten cold or hot. Reheating leftovers such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy or a cooked vegetable casserole to 165 degrees is recommended.

Q: Should leftover pies be refrigerated?

A: A homemade pumpkin pie, which is a custard-style pie containing eggs, should be covered and refrigerated. Leftover fruit pie, which typically is prepared without eggs, can be covered and stored on the counter. For best quality, refrigerate.

Q: If pumpkin pie should be refrigerated, then why are some pumpkin pies being sold at supermarkets not refrigerated?

A: Commercial pies that are not refrigerated typically are made from a commercial recipe in which the ingredients are shelf-stable. Refrigerating the pies at home is still a good idea.

Q: Do you have any tips for getting everything ready on time?

A: Plan ahead and divide menu items into three categories: Make ahead; stovetop; and side dishes such as a salad, relish tray or vegetable casserole that others can bring.

Sharing meal preparation reduces holiday meal costs for the host, but also shares the pleasure of preparing a meal for family and friends, Blakeslee said.


The USDA´s Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) is open year round, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (EST) to answer questions about meat, poultry and egg products. Recorded messages are available 24 hours a day. Food safety information also is available on the USDA´s Web site: http://www.usda.gov.

K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus in Manhattan.


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