USDA: Incorrectly thawing and storing turkeys can cause health h -, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

USDA: Incorrectly thawing and storing turkeys can cause health hazards

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The way you may have been preparing your turkey for Thanksgiving can lead to some health hazards. The USDA has some tips to keep you healthy during the holidays.

If you bought your turkey last Thanksgiving and left it in the freezer, it is safe to cook and eat this year. Turkeys can be kept frozen in the freezer, but you want to cook it within a year for best quality. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again. So how should you thaw your turkey?

Thawing in the refrigerator is the preferred method. Allow one day for each five pounds…that’s quite a bit a time for the big 20-plus pounders. After completely thawed, it can stay in the refrigerator one to two days before cooking. Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, some of you may not have done that, so here are two quicker and safer methods for thawing: in cold water or in the microwave. Cold water thawing requires 30 minutes per pound and the bird must be in a sealed plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination, and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product. You’re also going to need to change the water every 30 minutes. When thawing using the microwave, follow your microwave's manufacturer’s instructions. With these quicker methods, you must cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

If you haven’t purchased your turkey yet, you’re in luck, because the health risks have lowered tremendously. Buying a fresh one today and storing it in the fridge is the safest route to take, according to USDA Food Safety.

“For people who have bought fresh turkeys ahead of time, we really hope that they put them in the freezer before so that it lasts until Thanksgiving,” said Kristina Beaugh, MPH with USDA Food Safety Education. “We get a lot of calls from people on Thanksgiving and tell us ‘we opened our turkey and it smells like raw eggs or sulfur.’ That means it’s spoiled and you don’t want to serve that to your guest.”

According to USDA Food Safety, stuffing a turkey is not recommended. They suggest you cook your stuffing outside the bird in a casserole. But if you must stuff your turkey, prepare it safely. If you plan to use raw meat, poultry, or shellfish, you should cook these ingredients before stuffing the turkey to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from bacteria that may be found in raw ingredients. The wet ingredients for stuffing can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. However, do not mix wet and dry ingredients until just before spooning the stuffing mixture into the turkey cavity. Next you want to stuff the turkey loosely then cook immediately. Use a food thermometer to make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not stuff turkeys to be grilled, smoked, fried, or microwaved.

The USDA does not recommend buying retail-stuffed, uncooked turkeys from a store or restaurant. However, some turkeys purchased frozen have been stuffed at a plant under USDA inspection. These turkeys are safe when cooked from the frozen state as per the manufacturer's package directions.

If you plan to purchase a cooked turkey the day before Thanksgiving, there are still some safety tips.

“You don’t want to store the whole carcass in the refrigerator. The outside will get cooler before the center and will still be warm and that’s a heavy bacteria breeding ground, if you know what I mean.”

Beaugh says it best to carve the meat off, leaving the legs, thighs and wings intact if you like, and refrigerate the turkey in small, shallow containers. Tomorrow you can reheat the turkey in a 325-degree oven. All cooked leftovers last three to four days in the fridge…that’s until Monday! Leftovers can be frozen during that time for longer storage. 

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