(WAFB) - With the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching, measures should be taken to ensure proper food preparation practices are used to avoid foodborne illness.
"Correct food preparation and safely handling raw food can prevent illness. Salmonella and other harmful pathogens are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking the turkey. Don't leave leftovers out too long and maintaining a clean food preparation surface will also prevent illness," said Mike Strain, D.V.M., Agriculture and Forestry commissioner.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service offers the following tips for having a safe, delicious Thanksgiving:
Don't wash the turkey: According to the most recent Food Safety Survey, conducted by the FDA, 68% of the public washes whole turkeys before cooking them. The USDA does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing raw meat can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away. Cooking meat and poultry to the proper temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing the meat is unnecessary.
Use the refrigerator, the cold water method, or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey: There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, using cold water, or in the microwave. Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method because the meat will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. The turkey will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the turkey in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. To defrost the turkey in the microwave, refer to your microwave's instruction manual. You can use the cold water method or the microwave method to further defrost your turkey if it did not defrost all the way in the refrigerator.
Use a meat thermometer: The only way to determine if the turkey is fully cooked is to check its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. The thermometer should read 165 degrees in all three locations. The juices should not run clear at this temperature, and if they do, the bird is likely overcooked. Using a meat thermometer is the best way to ensure the turkey is done, but not overcooked.
Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days: Any leftover turkey should be cut off the bone and refrigerated as soon as possible, certainly within two hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Leftovers should last four days in the refrigerator. If you know you won't eat them within that time frame, go ahead and put them in the freezer in airtight containers. For best results, use leftover frozen turkey within four months. After four months, frozen leftover will still be safe to eat, but will be dried out or can lose flavor.
For more information on food safety, visit foodsafety.gov.