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Avoid an uninvited guest this Thanksgiving: food poisoning

Monday, Nov. 24, 2014



MANHATTAN — Do you know how to cook your turkey so your family doesn't cry foul? A Kansas State University food safety expert has tips on how to make the holidays tasty and avoid a serving of foodborne illness. 

"When you're buying your turkey, check for any excess ice crystals on the package, which is a sign the turkey has already thawed," said Karen Blakeslee, extension specialist in food science and coordinator of the university's Rapid Response Center. "Also make sure the package is still intact and there are no nicks or broken spots on the package. 

When thawing the turkey, plan ahead because properly thawing the bird takes time. Blakeslee says the only safe methods of thawing your turkey are in the refrigerator or in cold water, changed periodically.

"Don't thaw it on the countertop because that just thaws the outside of the turkey faster than the inside can thaw," Blakeslee said. "That allows bacteria to grow. It's important to thaw it in a manner that allows the whole turkey to warm at the same time."

Thawing in cold water takes about 30 minutes for every pound and the water needs to be changed every 30 minutes. Thawing in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours for every five pounds and the turkey should be stored on the bottom shelf in a rimmed container to catch any juices and prevent cross-contamination. On average, it takes about three days to thaw a 15-pound turkey in the fridge.

Before cooking, remove the giblets and neck and cook these items separately. Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling the raw turkey, but Blakeslee says don't wash the turkey.

"It's not necessary to wash the turkey itself," she said. "That just opens the door for potential cross-contamination of your cabinets or any other food that's out and is ready to eat."

Cook the turkey at no less than 325 degrees because a temperature lower than that invites bacteria to grow. Use a meat thermometer to check the meatiest part of the turkey, typically the section where the leg meets the body. It should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, when everyone has had their fill, put the leftovers away. Blakeslee says food should not sit out longer than two hours. To store, turkey should be taken off the bone and divided into multiple containers. Unless frozen, leftovers should be eaten in three to four days.



photo credit: USDAgov via photopincc


Karen Blakeslee


K-State Rapid Response Center

Written by

Lindsey Elliott

At a glance

A Kansas State University food safety expert has tips on how to cook your turkey properly so your family doesn't cry foul.