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Prepare turkeys properly to curb food-borne illness risk

USU Extension writer

Turkey, like all poultry, often carries salmonella, a common type of bacteria that can cause food-borne illness.

Under ideal conditions, bacteria can double every 10 to 20 minutes. That means one cell can increase to more than 16 million cells in eight hours.

Therefore Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences agent Darlene Christensen cautions Carbon County residents that perishable foods like poultry should never remain at room temperature for more than two hours.

To safely prepare turkeys, Christensen recommends that local residents consider several tips. The suggestions include:

•Turkeys can be safely thawed in the refrigerator at or lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

People should allow 24 hours for every five pounds of whole turkey, Using the method, fully thawed turkeys can remain in the refrigerator for one to two additional days.

After thawing, local residents should remove the neck and giblets from the body cavities, then wash the turkey with cold water, inside and out, and drain well.

•Turkeys may also be defrosted in cold water in airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag.

The turkey and parts should be submerged in cold water.

The water should be changed every 30 minutes to make sure it remains cold.

•It may be possible to thaw small turkeys in the microwave. Local residents should check the manufacturer's instructions for the size of turkey that will fit in the microwave, the minutes per pound and the power level to use for thawing.

People should remove the giblets, rinse the turkey and roast it immediately after thawing.

•It is never safe to thaw turkeys or meat on the counter, stressed the USU family and consumer sciences agent. The practice is putting the meat in what food safety experts call the danger zone - 40 to 140 F, which is where bacteria multiply rapidly.

•To roast a turkey, the oven temperature should be set no lower than 325 F.

It is not safe to cook a turkey for a lengthy time, such as overnight, at a very low temperature, pointed out Christensen. This encourages bacterial growth.

To check whether the turkey is fully cooked, a meat thermometer should be inserted into the thigh. Meat thermometers are available at reasonable prices in most supermarkets and variety stores.

To be safe, the thigh meat should reach 165 F. If the bird is stuffed, the stuffing should also reach 165 F.

•Turkey, stuffing and all perishable leftovers should be promptly refrigerated in shallow containers.

A habit of many families is to leave turkey and other perishable food items out for people to "graze on," explained Christensen.

But the practice is not safe, advised the USU Extension agent. All perishable items should be placed in the refrigerator.

For more information, residents may contact the local USU Extension office or call the United States Department of Agriculture's meat and poultry hotline toll-free at 888-674-6854.

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