CORVALLIS - If you're roasting turkey for holiday meals, allow enough time to do it safely. Shortcuts could make your family sick, warns an Oregon State University Extension food safety expert.
"Most turkeys have a safe handling label," said Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension foods and nutrition specialist. "Read it to get tips on recommended cleaning, cooking, and cooling procedures that prevent food poisoning."
Raw poultry can be a source of bacteria that naturally occurs in the intestinal tracts of all animals. Washing the bird to remove bacteria isn't recommended because that doesn't significantly reduce the number. Instead, washing spreads the bacteria around the kitchen, which creates another food safety hazard.
If you purchase a frozen bird, allow enough time for defrosting. It takes about five hours per pound to completely thaw a turkey in the refrigerator. That may mean starting four to five days before the meal.
To speed up defrosting, submerge the turkey in a clean sink, deep pan, or ice chest filled with water. Allow 30 minutes per pound. Change the water every half hour.
Small birds can be defrosted in the microwave. Check the manufacturer's instructions for the power level and time required. Because heating can be uneven, it's important to cook the bird immediately after thawing.
Stuff the bird just before you're ready to cook it to prevent bacterial growth. Stuff it loosely with about three-fourths cup of stuffing per pound of turkey so that it will cook thoroughly. You can shorten roasting time by cooking the stuffing separately.
Proper cooking procedures destroy bacteria. Roast the turkey at 325 degrees. Cooking at lower temperatures for longer times could result in bacterial growth. It's also unsafe to put the turkey in an oven that turns on automatically after several hours. Partially cooking the turkey and finishing it the next day is also potentially hazardous.
Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness. Bacteria will be destroyed when the center of the stuffing reaches 165 and the innermost part of the thigh reaches 180.
After cooking, remove the stuffing from the cavity promptly. Immediately cut remaining meat off the carcass after the meal. Refrigerate leftover meat and stuffing within 2-3 hours to prevent bacterial growth.
For further information about holiday food safety, contact the OSU Extension Holiday Food Safety Hotline (1-800-354-7319). Home economists and certified volunteers will answer questions weekdays except holidays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Dec. 31.