Prepare Thanksgiving turkey with sanitation in mind

Pamela Steinle

Andrea Just will be away from home this Thanksgiving for the first time.

Without her mom around to do the cooking, the junior clothing design major plans to cook a turkey with a little help from her roommate.

Just doesn’t really know how she’s going to do it. She said she would read the directions on the package and call her mom if she had to.

“I know to put it in early, to cook it for a long time and to thaw it out,” Just said.

For first-time turkey roasters like Just, food science and nutrition professor Bill Schafer has some words of advice on how to prepare a turkey without making holiday guests sick.

He cautions new cooks to prevent harmful bacterial growth by properly thawing, cooking and storing the turkey.

“We don’t do as much cooking as we used to, or we never learned how,” Schafer said of modern society. “Therefore we aren’t familiar with how food is produced or how to prepare it correctly.”

For example, he asked, how many students have a meat thermometer in their kitchens?

Even turkeys with “pop-up” temperature indicators should be tested in several places to make sure the bird has reached 180 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.

At this temperature, most harmful bacteria are destroyed.

But food safety must be considered long before the turkey is even in the oven.

“The main thing if you buy a frozen turkey is to leave enough time to thaw it out in the fridge,” Schafer said.

He recommends one day of thawing inside a refrigerator for every five pounds of turkey.

While cooks can also opt to thaw their turkey under cold running water or in the microwave, they should not thaw the turkey on the kitchen counter.

At this temperature, high levels of bacteria will grow on the surface of the bird.

After the turkey is thawed, cooked and eaten, it should be deboned and placed in shallow containers that will allow the meat to cool quickly in the refrigerator.

Throughout the process, Schafer advises cooks to watch their personal sanitation.

Wash hands, knives and cutting boards after touching the turkey, Schafer said.

Pamela Steinle welcomes comments at [email protected]