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Plan Ahead for Holiday Meals
01 December 2008

BISMARCK (UTN) - Is it your turn to cook the holiday feast? Get organized early so you can enjoy the day.

      House cleaning and sanitizing can be done a few days early. The kitchen, bathroom and shared items like door knobs, the phone, the refrigerator handle are touched by everyone in the home. Germs thrive in these places (flu and cold virus). Washing with soap and water will wash off some of the germs. After washing, sanitize these surfaces by spraying with a solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach combined with one quart of water. Let the surface air dry or after two minutes dry with a paper towel.

      Thaw the frozen turkey in the refrigerator (allow 3-4 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).

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.

      Wash and sanitize kitchen surfaces before and after preparing food. When poultry is cooked it kills salmonella bacteria. When you are handling the raw bird salmonella is easily spread to the counter tops, faucets, cupboards. Clean and sanitize so family members do not get sick.

      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 fry-pan 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.

      Use a thermometer to test the turkey for doneness. Insert the thermometer in the turkey breast, do not touch the bone. The turkey is safely cooked when the thermometer reaches 165F.

      After the turkey is baked take it out of the oven and let 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 41°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.

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

      Have a wonderful and safe Holiday Season!




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