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How safe is your bird?

November 21, 2012
By Ilsa Matthes - Staff Writer , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Many people will eat until they feel sick this Thanksgiving, but there are a few safety precautions families can take to avoid becoming seriously ill from foodborne illnesses.

"You really want to be careful with your turkey and your stuffing," said Julie Moberg, health and nutrition educator for MSU Extension.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a service of the Department of Agriculture, there are three ways to thaw a turkey: in a refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave.

Refrigerators should always be maintained at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the growth of bacteria. Four to five pounds of turkey can thaw in a refrigerator in 24 hours. Never unwrap a turkey thawing in a refrigerator, and always place the bird on a tray to catch any juices which could contaminate other food.

A faster method is to submerge a wrapped turkey in cold water in a sterilized sink. About one pound of meat will thaw in 30 minutes using this method. The water must be changed every half hour or be left running so the water is constantly being changed. The turkey must be cooked immediately after it is thawed and the raw bird cannot be refrozen.

Microwave ovens are a safe way to thaw frozen turkey, however each microwave is different and not all turkeys will fit in all ovens. Turkeys should be unwrapped while microwaving and should never be refrozen or refrigerated after thawing.

Turkey which are thawed improperly may thaw unevenly or too quickly leading to an increase in bacteria. "It's when the turkey warms up that you get bacteria, and it's usually salmonella," said Moberg.

Cross contamination, when bacteria from one food ends up on another food, is also a serious risk during the holidays.

"You don't want any other foods or pies on a cutting surface that meat was on, because you typically don't cook those foods at a high enough temperature," said Joe Ranthum, environmental health specialist for Public Health Delta and Menominee Counties.

According to Moberg, some foodborne illnesses can take as long as six weeks to show symptoms. However, salmonella usually causes flu-like symptoms - including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach - within 24 to 48 hours.

Cooked foods can also cause sickness if they are not properly stored. "Make sure that once you're done eating that turkey gets back into the refrigerator within two hours," said Moberg.

Ranthum says that meat from a turkey should be removed from the bone and placed in a shallow pan in the refrigerator. If the meat is covered there must be openings to allow the heat to escape. "We need to cool that bird down quickly," he said.

Once a turkey has been cooked it can be eaten cold. When a turkey comes out of the oven, or anytime leftover turkey is eaten hot, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stuffings should never be cooked inside a turkey, and any stuffing containing meat should be heated to 165.

It is less common for food poisoning to come from vegetables. However, cooked vegetables should be heated to an internal temperature of 135 degrees.



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