Back in the day before when I first got married and began making Thanksgiving dinner I was scared to death of Salmonella poisoning. I didn’t know the rules of cooking a turkey, but I didn’t want to make my family sick so I would cook my poor turkey to a petrified state. I am so glad to have gotten past drying out my turkeys, but I learned what was safe and what wasn’t.
1. Wash your hands often, especially in between handling foods that are dry and wet.
2. Before preparing food, carefully clean counters, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water. Repeat cleaning in between recipes, especially if you have raw meat or leafy greens on the cutting board, both of which can carry salmonella.
3. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
4. If you purchased a turkey fresh and not frozen, refrigerate it immediately. For a frozen turkey, allow lots of time for it to thaw…24 hours of thaw time per five pounds of turkey. Thaw a turkey a high walled pan placed in the refrigerator, and do not let the water touch any other food.
5. It is safest not to stuff a turkey, but rather put herbs inside the cavity to season it. If you must stuff, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing which must reach 165° F. Stuffings with meat or shellfish (oyster) ingredients are risky. Always cook these on the stove top or in the oven, and not in the turkey. After carving, remove all stuffing from the bird before refrigerating it.
6. A significant risk of food poisoning comes from undercooking the turkey. You can’t tell it’s done by how it looks! While recipes give you hints about testing for “doneness,” such as a golden brown color or seeing juices run clear, these may not be accurate. The only way to make sure your bird is cooked sufficiently to be safe to eat is to measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. It must reach 165 degrees F.
7. It may not be in mom’s recipe, but bring gravy to a full boil before serving.
8. Keep cold food like salads, Jello molds and salad dressing refrigerated until just before serving. Once dinner is over, refrigerate leftovers. If food has been sitting out for two hours or more, it may not be safe to eat.
9. Use pasteurized eggs in homemade recipes.
10. After eating, take the remaining meat off the bird and store in a shallow container in the refrigerator. Don’t put an entire carcass into the refrigerator — it won’t cool down quickly enough.