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FOR RELEASE: November 14, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams

OSDH Offers Advice For Preparing A Safe Thanksgiving Meal

As families gather for Thanksgiving, it is important to remember food safety basics when preparing the holiday meal. Whether the Thanksgiving meal centers on a turkey, ham, roast, or some other dish, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) wants Oklahomans to make sure that foodborne illness is not an invited guest.

By following four basic food safety practices, everyone can reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Keep hands and all food preparation surfaces clean, don't cross-contaminate foodborne bacteria from one food to another, cook to proper temperatures, and refrigerate perishable foods quickly after eating.

The OSDH offers the following "Thanksgiving basics" to help reduce foodborne illness:

Storing the turkey...Avoid cross-contamination

Whether you purchase a fresh or frozen turkey is a matter of personal preference. Buy a fresh turkey no more than two days ahead of the big meal and make sure you have adequate storage space in the refrigerator. If a frozen turkey is the choice, you can safely defrost it in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 5 pounds. Check that the original bag is not broken and place the turkey in a pan, to prevent raw juices from coming in contact with other foods. Also, the turkey can be thawed in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook immediately. Never defrost on the kitchen counter.

Safe cooking

For safety and doneness, the internal temperature of the turkey must reach 165° F in the thigh. Set the oven temperature to 325° F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the correct internal temperature is reached and to prevent overcooking. A meat thermometer should be used even in turkeys that have "pop-up" temperature indicators to ensure a safe temperature of 165° F.

To stuff or not to stuff

The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey. But whether the stuffing is cooked inside or outside of the turkey, it must reach an internal temperature of 165° F.

If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff loosely – about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. The stuffing should be moist, not dry, since heat destroys bacteria more rapidly in a moist environment. Place stuffed turkey in oven immediately. When done, remember to check the stuffing with at meat thermometer to make sure it has reached a temperature of at least 165° F.

Size of Turkey Cooking Time Size of Turkey Cooking Time
Unstuffed   Stuffed  
8 to 12 pounds 2 ¾ to 3 hours 8 to 12 pounds 3 to 3 ½ hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours 12 to 14 pounds 3 ½ to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ hours 14 to 18 pounds 4 to 4 ¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ½ hours 18 to 20 pounds 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 ½ to 5 hours 20 to 24 pounds 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours


Safe handling of leftovers

Put prepared foods and leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours. Cut leftover turkey into small pieces, or slice. Refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Split large amounts of leftovers into small bowls and cool them in the refrigerator. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3 to 4 days, and gravy within 1 to 2 days. Gravy should be reheated to a boil and leftovers, if heated, should be thoroughly reheated to 165° F.

If you have questions about food-borne illnesses or food safety, call your local county health department or visit the Communicable Disease Division web site at www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/index.html.


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