Getting burned isn’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to cooking your turkey this Thanksgiving.
Cooking a turkey takes a lot of preparation and if the turkey isn’t stored or cooked correctly, people may unintentionally make their guests or family members sick, according to Tina Hanes, a technical information specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture meat and poultry hotline.
“We get hundreds of calls from people who aren’t sure if the turkey is spoiled or if it’s been in the fridge too long,” she said.
Here’s a guide you can use to ensure that your family and friends don’t remember the year you hosted Thanksgiving as the year everyone got sick.
1. Thawing the turkey and the two-day rule
Buying your turkey early? Better keep your bird frozen until you are ready to thaw or you may be on your way to the grocery store for a new one, according to Hanes.
“Once a frozen turkey is thawed, it should be cooked within two days,” Hanes said. She said some people prefer a fresh turkey, so they should plan on waiting to pick it up from the store until one or two days before they plan to cook it.
It takes 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey to thaw, according to the USDA.
USDA guidelines guidelines on refrigerator thawing times:
- 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
- 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
- 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
- 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days
You can thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, or if you are strapped for time, you can use the microwave or run cold water over the wrapped bird in a sink.
2. How do I know if the turkey is spoiled?
Maybe you left your turkey in the fridge for a week, or it sat in your trunk in the garage for a few hours, regardless you should be wary of using the product.
Many times people can tell if a turkey is spoiled by the “texture and smell” of the turkey. Hanes said the skin of the turkey may become slimy, and the smell is often described as “rotten eggs or like sulfur.”
It gets trickier with detecting foodborne pathogens, according to Hanes.
“You can’t see, taste or smell foodborne pathogens, so if E. coli, Salmonella or Staph are on the turkey, you wouldn’t know it,” she said.
3. To wash or not to wash?
Don’t wash your turkey. While many people might think that rinsing the turkey will remove bacteria from the bird, nothing could be farther from the truth, according to the USDA.
“Juices that splash during washing can transfer bacteria onto the surfaces of your kitchen, other foods and utensils. This is called cross-contamination, which can make you and your guests very sick,” according to the USDA.
Make sure that all surfaces and plates that come into contact with the raw turkey are sanitized and make sure to wash your hands.
4. Doesn’t matter if it wiggles, or jiggles like it should, the bird has to be 165 degrees.
Regardless of whether your turkey is the perfect shade of brown or if the drumsticks jiggle, the bird is not safe until it reaches 165 degrees, according to the USDA. Use a food thermometer to check the bird in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost parts of the wing and the bird’s thigh.
5. No, we aren’t done yet. Leftovers:
Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of eating and should be safe for three to four days after your meal. If you freeze your turkey, it should be okay for two to six months.