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Answers to the Three Most Common Food Preparation Questions

How to cook holiday meats.Religious, social and family traditions passed down from generation to generation are renewed and strengthened during the holidays. It’s a time when we cook and enjoy the popular and traditional foods of the holidays with our family and friends. Through the years, we’ve been asked a number of questions related to storing and preparing holiday food. Here are three of the most common questions with responses that will help you avoid making your family and guests sick this holiday season:

Q. Shopping too early: I bought a fresh turkey last week. Is it still safe to eat? How long can I keep a fresh turkey in my refrigerator?

A. We recommend that you buy your fresh turkey one to two days before you plan to cook it. If you do not plan to cook it within two days, the turkey can be frozen indefinitely, but for best quality use your turkey within 12 months.

Q. Roasting holiday meats: Can I cook my holiday meats at temperatures less than 250 °F?  Can I use an oven bag for roasting my turkey?

A. During the holidays, people tend to spend more money for specialty meats and roasting is a recommended method for cooking tender meats that will make a lasting impression on your guests. To keep the meat tender and minimize shrinkage due to the evaporation of moisture, an oven temperature of 325 °F should be used. It is not recommended to cook meat and poultry at oven temperatures lower than 325 °F because these foods could remain in the "Danger Zone" (temperatures of 40 to 140 °F) too long and allow bacteria to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness.

Turkey Roasting Chart Using Oven Bags



8-12 lb. turkey

1½ to 2 hours

12-16 lb. turkey

2 to 2½ hours

16-20 lb. turkey

2½ to 3 hours

20-24 lb. turkey

3 to 3½ hours

 When using an oven bag for your turkey, refer to the directions on the package for the manufacturer’s recommended cooking times. For whole, unstuffed turkeys in oven cooking bags, cook at 350 °F for the following approximate times. Add 30 minutes to the
times if you are stuffing the turkey.

For the recommended cooking times for other types of holiday meats, refer to this roasting chart Exit disclaimer.

Q. Handling ham: How can I store and prepare fully cooked ham?

A. There are two types of hams: fully cooked, which are ready-to-eat right out of the package and those that require cooking before eating. Fully cooked hams may be
eaten cold or reheated to 140 °F. When storing these hams, see the "best if used by" dates on the label. These are dates recommended by the manufacturer to indicate when a product will be of best flavor or quality. Use store-wrapped cooked ham portions within three to five days.

"Cook-before-eating" hams must be cooked to 145 °F and allowed to rest for at least three minutes to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Use within seven days.

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Posted in: Food Safety | HolidaysTagged: Food Prep | Meat