DOBSON — Traditions with food have taken the spotlight in many Thanksgiving traditions locally. Safe food handling and preparation give holiday chefs one less thing to worry about as they ready their tables for guests.
Surry County Cooperative Extension Service Agent Carmen Long reminds local cooks that the United States Department of Agriculture poultry hotline can personally answer food safety questions on weekdays year-round. She said this hotline is staffed by food safety specialist with backgrounds in home economics, nutrition and food technology.
Interested persons may call the meat and poultry hotline at 1-888-674-6854. Beginning in 2002, the toll-free hotline extended its service to callers in Spanish as well if they choose the appropriate number at the prompt. The hotline is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is closed on other federal government holidays.
“We have found out that washing your turkey can actually spread more germs in the kitchen so that is not being recommended any more,” said Long. “The heat of the oven is great enough to kill bacteria on the outside of the bird. Remember to wash and sterilize all utensils used to prepare the turkey and to use a mild bleach solution to clean counter tops.”
She added that it is important to clean and sanitize utensils and work surfaces after preparing the raw turkey for roasting. Always wash hands after handling raw meat or poultry. Long said recent research shows by washing a turkey pathogens can be spread within three feet of the sink.
Long said also to be wary if using a microwave to thaw a turkey because of its uneven heating. Leaving a bird on a counter top to thaw exposes it in the perfect temperature zone for bacteria growth so it is not recommended. Usually the package the bird is wrapped in is sufficient for storage but if some leaking does occur, place the turkey in a pan to keep liquids from contaminating a refrigerator or counter top.
Foresight is forewarned. Long encouraged cooks to make sure they have all the ingredients they need to prepare a holiday meal. Check to be sure they have all the equipment needed including a roasting pan large enough to hold the turkey chosen this year as well as having a meat thermometer. Remember it takes 50 percent more time to cook if the turkey is not completely thawed.
Calculating on an oven setting of 325 degrees, an unstuffed turkey weighing 8-12 pounds will take two and three-quarter hours. A bird weighing 12-14 pounds could take three to three and three-quarter hours. A bird tipping the scales at 14-18 pounds will take anywhere from three and three-quarter to four and one-quarter hours. Turkeys weighing 18-20 pounds will require cooks to budget four and a half hours. Turkeys weighing 20-24 pounds will take four and a half to five hours to cook.
Long said it is crucial to use an instant read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey. A good indication of it being cooked thoroughly is when the temperature, (measured in the thigh with the probe not touching the bone) has reached 165 degrees. Stuffing whether cooked inside or outside of the bird should reach 165 degrees.
Most food safety experts recommend cutting the turkey into small pieces and refrigerating turkey and stuffing separately in shallow containers within two hours of cooking. According to Long, turkey leftovers should be cooled quickly to 41 degrees. It is recommended that leftover turkey and stuffing be used within three or four days. Gravy should be used within one to two days. Frozen leftovers can be used within two to six months for best quality.
When reheating them, be sure they reach a temperature of 165 degrees or until hot and steaming. Be sure food is covered while reheating. They also can be done with a microwave or in an oven at 325 degrees until 165 degrees, or cold for sandwiches.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can use your leftovers,” said Long. “I like to think of them as planned-overs to use in future meals to save time and money with much less effort.”
Long also had some advice for those choosing to deep fry turkeys.
She said that fryers are safest when used outdoors a safe distance from buildings or material that can burn. Because many fryers do not have thermostats they should not be left unattended. Many units easily tip over so extra caution is advised. Turkey will displace some oil in the fryer when they are lowered into the oil. If the unit is filled with too much oil, it can spill out over the pot, hit the flame and cause a fire.
Frying experts caution that partially frozen turkeys placed into a fryer can cause spillover. Remember too that the pot handles, lid and sides of the unit get dangerously hot posing a burn hazard. Never let pets or children near a fryer when it is in use. Oil inside a pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use. Safety goggles and well-insulated potholders or oven mitts are recommended when touching a pot or lid handle. It is also a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.