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Safety tips for preparing, cooking turkey

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Thanksgiving has come and gone, but turkey is a preferred meal throughout the holiday season and bacteria and food-borne illness are possible when preparing fowl if the cook doesn't take proper precautions.

Those purchasing fresh turkeys should do so one to two days before the holiday. The bird should be kept in the refrigerator until the time comes to cook it.

Do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys. Harmful bacteria in the stuffing can multiply quickly.

Frozen turkeys can last a year in the freezer and can be thawed one of three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave.

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator allow 24 hours for each four to five pounds. Keep the turkey in its original wrapper and place it in a large pan to catch juices that may leak. Once thawed, the turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days.

When thawing a turkey in water, allow 30 minutes per pound. Submerge the turkey in cold tap water and change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed and do not re-freeze it until after fully cooked.

Thawing a turkey in the microwave requires first making sure the turkey will fit inside, then check the owner's manual for minutes per pound on the defrost cycle and the power level to use for thawing. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing and do not re-freeze it until it is fully cooked.

After your turkey is thawed, remove the giblets from the neck and body cavities to cook separately, then wash the turkey in cold tap water. Set the oven temperature to 325 degrees and place the bird on a rack in a roasting pan.

Cooks preparing turkey should use soap and water to wash their hands, utensils, sink and anything else that comes in contact with raw turkey and its juices.

Cook stuffing outside the bird in a separate casserole dish until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees for optimum safety and more even cooking.

Those who choose to stuff their turkey should prepare their ingredients ahead of time and keep wet and dry ingredients separate. Mix the wet and dry ingredients right before stuffing the bird. Pack the stuffing lightly in the cavity. As with preparation outside the bird, the stuffing should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast. For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily. Use the timetables included below to determine approximately how long to cook your turkey.

Unstuffed
-- 4 to 8 pounds (breast) ... 1½ to 3¼ hours
-- 8 to 12 pounds ............ 2¾ to 3 hours
-- 12 to 14 pounds........... 3 to 3¾ hours
-- 14 to 18 pounds........... 3¾ to 4¼ hours
-- 18 to 20 pounds........... 4¼ to 4½ hours
-- 20 to 24 pounds .......... 4½ to 5 hours

Stuffed
-- 4 to 6 pounds (breast) ... Not usually applicable
-- 6 to 8 pounds (breast) ... 2½ to 3½ hours
-- 8 to 12 pounds ............... 3 to 3½ hours
-- 12 to 14 pounds .......... 3½ to 4 hours
-- 14 to 18 pounds .......... 4 to 4¼ hours
-- 18 to 20 pounds .......... 4¼ to 4¾ hours
-- 20 to 24 pounds .......... 4¾ to 5¼ hours

It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, but the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey.

Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than two hours or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days and use gravy within one to two days. Use frozen leftovers within two to six months for best quality.

(Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture)
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