Former Auburn Food Systems Institute exec gives advice on Thanksgiving food safety

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Food safety should be practiced every day, but the proper handling, cooking and storage of foods gains even more attention on Thanksgiving Day. Jean Weese, formerly of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute, or AUFSI, explains how to be safe this holiday. Weese is long-time head of the Alabama Cooperative Extension Systems food safety and quality team, in addition to her role with AUFSI.

What are the biggest food safety risks when you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner?

The biggest food safety risk when you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner is thawing your turkey improperly. Thaw time in the fridge requires about 24 hours for every five pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40 degrees F (5 degrees C). Thaw time in cold water requires about 30 minutes per pound, refreshed every 30 minutes. Thawing your turkey will take several days, so start this weekend.

How often should you wash your hands and cutting boards when preparing food?

Wash your hands after handling any raw meat, including turkey, using the bathroom or touching a pet. Also, wash your hands at any other times you would normally wash your hands. It is good to have separate cutting boards for meat and fresh fruits and veggies. If you do not have separate ones, you need to wash the boards after each process.  

What is the best way to thaw your turkey? Why?

As I mentioned before, thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Thawing your turkey will take several days, so check how many pounds your turkey weighs and allow enough days for thawing. Also, when you put the turkey in the refrigerator, place a pan under it because, as it thaws, juices will spill out onto other foods on lower shelves. If you forget to place your turkey in the fridge early enough, you can thaw it under cold running water. It is important to leave the water running and not let the bacteria grow in a pool of water.  

How can you tell when your turkey is done?

Use a meat thermometer to tell if your turkey is done. The temperature should reach 165 degrees in the thickest parts of the turkey (the breast) and also in the thigh.

Is it safe to cook dressing inside the bird?

We do not recommend cooking the dressing inside the bird, as it is very difficult to get the dressing to a temperature of 165 degrees without overcooking the bird.  

What do I need to know about storing leftovers?

Leftovers can cause food safety issues if not handled correctly. Never leave leftovers out for more than two hours. As soon as you are finished eating, put the leftovers in the refrigerator. Also, use the leftovers within three days. If you have not consumed them by then, throw them out. You are probably tired of them anyway.

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