November 16, 1998
Avoid turkey traps to protect holiday dinner guests
Tis the season for feasting on turkey with all the trimmings, but before your friends and family sit down around the holiday table, take time to learn proper food safety techniques so food-borne illnesses do not spoil your holiday.
Never thaw turkey at room temperature. Remember that food defrosts from the outside inward. If left to thaw at room temperature, bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels on the outside of the turkey before the inside thaws completely. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, allowing one day for every five pounds. Thawing in the microwave is another alternative. Either way, keep the turkey on a platter so its raw juices do not drip onto other surfaces.
If you are in a rush to thaw the turkey, put it in a heavy plastic freezer bag secured with a twist tie. Place in a clean sink and cover with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Allow 30 minutes for each pound.
Don't stuff the turkey the night before. The cavity of the bird insulates the stuffing from the cold temperatures of the refrigerator, thus encouraging bacterial growth. Cook the stuffing in a separate dish, or prepare the dry and perishable ingredients separately and store in plastic containers until ready to combine the next day.
Don't partially cook the turkey in advance. Partially cooking the turkey well in advance might help minimize the work and give you time to socialize with guests, but it is not a good idea. You may heat the bird enough to activate bacterial growth, but not long enough to destroy it. If you have to cook your bird in advance, de-bone and refrigerate the pieces in small, shallow plastic containers with lids within two hours of cooking. Make sure lids are tight to prevent moisture loss.
Store leftovers in small, shallow plastic containers. Plastic containers less than two inches deep will allow the contents to cool evenly.
Don't let food sit out. For ever 20 minutes that food is left at room temperature, bacteria doubles. Refrigerate leftovers after they have been out for no more than two hours.
Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days and gravy within one to two days of its initial preparation. Re-heat to 165 degrees or until hot.
For a free food safety brochure and more information on food safety, call 1-800-2-HELP-90, or visit the American Plastics Council Web site at