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Together, Sharing Food Safely
15 November 2004
Pat Aune, Food Safety Educator, UTTC Land Grant Extension Program

The Thanksgiving Feast

      Thanksgiving is a time to pause and express our appreciation for all that we have. It is a time to share food and beverage with family and friends. Is it your turn to cook or host the Thanksgiving feast?

      Hosting the feast usually means the house gets a thorough cleaning. Begin early. Wash away germs found on household surfaces with soap and water. Sanitize by spraying with a solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach combined with one quart of water. After 2 minutes dry the surfaces with a paper towel.

What needs to be sanitized and why?
      Door knobs, the phone, the bathroom and the kitchen. Everyone in the home touches these places so germs are shared. Washing and sanitizing might slow down the spread of flu and colds. Washing and sanitizing the kitchen surfaces will protect us from salmonella bacteria and other bacteria carried by food. Wash before and after preparing food.

Are you cooking the turkey?
      If so, remember to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, it will take 3-5 days. If you forget to thaw the turkey or do not have refrigerator space submerge it in cold water (70° F or colder). Change the water every 30 minutes. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey (12 pound turkey takes about 6 hours to thaw in water).

      Bake the dressing or stuffing separate from the turkey to keep it safe and easy to prepare and serve. A casserole dish of dressing will take about one hour to bake or it could be made in an electric frypan if you do not have oven space. I usually add drippings from the roasting pan so the flavor is wonderful. Use a thermometer so you know the dressing reaches 165°F.

      If you choose to stuff your turkey prepare the dressing and stuff the turkey just before it goes in the 325°F oven. Do not pack the cavity, use about cup of dressing per pound of turkey. When you think the turkey is done test the temperature of the stuffing. It must reach 165°F inside the turkey or your dinner guests will be exposed to salmonella. Often the turkey is overcooked and dry before the stuffing is at 165°F.

      When the turkey thigh muscle reaches 180°F and the juices run clear take the turkey out of the oven and let it stand about 15 minutes before carving. I usually put the turkey on the serving platter and make gravy in the roasting pan.

Keep all foods hot or cold - not warm!
      If food is left out of the refrigerator or off the stove for more than 2 hours it needs to be discarded because it might have enough bacteria to make someone ill (diarrhea and vomiting are common food-borne illnesses).

      It is also important to chill foods in shallow or small containers so it gets to less than 40°F in a couple hours. That means the turkey should be taken off the bone (it is easier to remove while at room temperature). The stuffing and the gravy need to be in separate containers.

      Serve leftover turkey within four days. Serve leftover dressing and gravy within two days, reheat it to at least 165°F. If you have a lot of leftovers freeze for later. Use good quality freezer containers, label and use within a month for best quality.

      If you have more questions call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. Or go to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at www.fsis.usda.gov. Butterball Turkey also sponsors a good website at www.butterball.com.

      Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.


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