By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Okay, so it’s your turn to host the annual Thanksgiving feast. Aunt Sara has been cooking turkeys for 40 years, and Cousin Rachel is a gourmet cook. Can you tackle a turkey without being traumatized?
Yes you can! Believe it or not, taking care of “Tom” isn’t that tough, and it can actually be FUN! Just follow USDA’s “Turkey FUNdamentals” and your bird will turn out fine. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline says that each November, both novice and experienced cooks have the same basic questions on preparing turkey. Here they are:
How Big of a Turkey Should I Buy?
You’ll need about one pound per person or a pound and a half per person if you have hearty eaters or want ample leftovers.
When Should I Buy the Turkey?
A frozen turkey can be purchased months in advance, but a fresh bird should be bought only one to two days ahead.
Should I Buy a Hen or a Tom?
Age, not gender, is the determining factor for tenderness. All turkeys in the market are young, usually four to six months old. A hen generally weighs less than 16 pounds and a tom is usually over 16 pounds.
How Long Will it Take to Thaw a Turkey?
It’s best to plan ahead and thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. The rule of thumb is 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. So it will take a 20-pound bird four to five days to thaw.
If you need to speed up the thawing time, you can thaw the wrapped bird by submerging it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. This takes about 30 minutes per pound. Thawing in the microwave can also save time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for size of bird and timing.
How Long Should I Roast the Turkey?
Cooking time will vary. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimun internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, you may choose to cook the turkey to higher internal temperatures. If it is a stuffed bird, the stuffing temperature should also reach 165 °F.
What Do I Do if the Turkey is Done an Hour Ahead of Schedule?
It is safe to hold a turkey in the oven at a reduced temperature. First use a food thermometer to make sure the bird is done. Keep the thermometer in the meat. Lower your oven temperature. Start by moving your oven setting to 200 °F. Adjust the temperature of the oven to assure that the temperature of the turkey never drops below 140 °F. Check the food thermometer at regular intervals to make sure that 140 °F is maintained and keep the bird covered so it doesn’t dry out.
What Do I Do if the Turkey is Not Done on Time?
About the only thing you can do is to keep cooking. Do not keep opening and closing the oven door to check its progress. This will only lower the oven temperature and add to the cooking time.
Can You Roast the Turkey the Day Before?
Yes. In fact, more and more people are taking this route. For safety reasons, however, once the bird is cooked it must be cut into smaller pieces and stored in shallow containers in the refrigerator. The meat can then be eaten cold or reheated when it is time to eat.
For more information about turkey, check out these resources:
- General Information about Preparing and Storing Turkey
- Turkey from Farm to Table
- Let's Talk Turkey
- Holiday Food Safety
Do You Have Questions?
If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday; 10:00 am to 2:00 pm eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Operators are available in English and Spanish. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.
By Howard Seltzer, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Halloween is a fun time of year for all ages. To make sure ghosts, witches and spiders are the only things to be afraid of on Halloween, follow these food safety tips:
- Give your child a good meal before trick-or-treating to prevent them from snacking on candy and treats. Urge them to wait until they get home before eating them and let you inspect the treats in their bags.
- Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
- Inspect all treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
- Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.
- Consider providing non-food treats for children that visit your home, such as coloring and activity books.
- Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties.
- Don't taste raw cookie dough or cake batter that contain uncooked eggs
- Keep all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings.
- Don’t leave perishable goodies out of the fridge for more than two hours (one hour in temperatures above 90°F).
- Bobbing for apples is a favorite Halloween game. Reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Try a different bobbing for apples game from FightBAC.org. Cut out apples from red construction paper. Write activities for kids to do on each apple, such as “say ABCs.” Place a paper clip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string or make a fishing pole with a dowel rod, magnet and yarn. Let the children take turn “bobbing” with their magnet and doing the activity written on their apple. Give children a fresh apple for participating in your food-safe version of bobbing for apples.
Learn more about Halloween food safety:
By Howard Seltzer, National Education Advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA
The ongoing multistate outbreak of food poisoning associated with cantaloupes has put a bad bug called Listeria monocytogenes in the spotlight.
What is Listeria Monocytogenes?
It's a harmful bacterium that causes a foodborne illness called listeriosis. It's found in the environment – soil, water, decaying vegetation, and the intestinal tract of animals.
What happens when people get Listeriosis?
A person with listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches. People who think they might have become sick with listeriosis should consult their doctor.
Listeriosis is relatively rare but can be fatal, especially in people at high risk for listeriosis: older adults; young children; people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS patients; and pregnant women. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.
What Causes Listeria in our Food?
If food is processed, packaged, or handled in unsanitary conditions, it can become contaminated with Listeria. This is of particular concern with ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods, such as luncheon meats and pates or meat spreads, because most of these are not reheated before eating – a step that would kill Listeria. In addition, unpasteurized milk and products made with unpasteurized milk can carry Listeria, as well as other dangerous bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.
It’s very important to understand that, unlike most other foodborne bacteria, Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures. That means the longer foods contaminated with Listeria are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria have to multiply. What’s more, foods contaminated with Listeria can cross-contaminate surfaces they come into contact with – surfaces in the refrigerator and around the kitchen.
How can I prevent Listeriosis?
Consumers, especially at-risk consumers and those who take care of them, should follow these simple steps to help prevent listeriosis:
- Avoid foods containing unpasteurized milk
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Clean refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces regularly and effectively. Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; and finally dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
- Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
- Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately.
For more information on Listeria and listeriosis see:
- General Information about Listeria & Listeria and Pregnancy
- Special Handling for Ready-to-Eat Refrigerated Foods: Reducing the Risk of Foodborne Listeria
- Food Safety At-A-Glance: How to Protect Yourself and Your Baby
- CDC Listeria Site
- Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis