Cooking a turkey safely



by Capt. Heidi Hernandez
66th Medical Squadron Public Health


11/14/2012 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  -- The holiday season is fast approaching. For most people that means family gatherings, shopping, hurrying about and food. The last thing anyone wants this holiday season is a food borne illness.

Since all raw foods of animal origin carry bacteria, assume that the Thanksgiving turkey is no exception. Salmonella or campylobacter can be found on a turkey and could potentially cause a food borne illness. By following several food safety precautions, food borne illnesses can be prevented.

Thawing:
Thawing at room temperature is dangerous because the outside of the turkey can reach temperatures above 41 degrees and anything above that is considered the "danger zone." Bacteria thrive in warmer temperatures so the recommended thawing method is either refrigeration or soaking the turkey in cold water. Expect an eight pound bird to take about four hours to thaw in cold water or one day to thaw in the refrigerator.

Washing:
Since most bacteria are found on the surfaces of foods, all items that the turkey comes in contact with need to be washed with two teaspoons of chlorine bleach to one gallon water. This solution can be used to sanitize utensils and cutting boards. Always remember to allow clean items to fully air dry.

Cooking:
Cooking a turkey thoroughly will kill bacteria, but a temperature that is to low can allow harmful bacteria to multiply and not be destroyed. Staphylococcus is a common culprit because it is heat resistant and can multiply if the turkey isn't heated to 170 degrees in four hours. Set the oven at a minimum of 325 degrees to ensure cooking is rapid enough to prevent the growth of bacteria during cooking. The turkey is done when a thermometer inserted into the inner thigh reads 170 to 180 degrees.

It is important to remember to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, not to cross contaminate raw foods with ready-to-eat foods, cook a turkey thoroughly, thaw a turkey as safely as possible and try not to make this holiday season a memorable one for the wrong reason. Be safe, prevent illness and enjoy.

Anyone who would like more information may contact the Public Health office at 781-225-6259 or 781-225-6295. For information on other methods for cooking a turkey, call the U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or TTY: 1-800-256-7072.

Informative online resources include www.fsis.usda.gov and www.foodsafety.gov/keep/types/turkey/index.html.