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Maggie Jover: Let’s talk turkey safety

As Thanksgiving approaches, cooking the traditional turkey dinner gives rise to food safety concerns. A few simple steps will ensure a delicious and safe meal for you, your family and friends.

* Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator in the original wrapper. Allow 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days. If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, you can submerge the turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. With this method, allow 30 minutes defrosting per pound of turkey.

* Once your turkey thaws, it requires little preparation before cooking. Remove the neck and giblets from the neck and body cavities. Wash the inside and outside of the turkey and the giblets in cold water and drain well. To prevent the spread of bacteria, wash your hands, utensils and the sink with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with the raw turkey.

* Although it may seem like a good idea to save time by stuffing your turkey in advance, that’s inviting trouble. Harmful bacteria can multiply in the stuffing and cause foodborne illness. Stuff the turkey just before you’re ready to roast it.

* The turkey is done when the temperature reaches 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit in the inner thigh of a whole turkey or in the center of the thickest part of a turkey piece. Stuffing temperature should reach at least 165 degrees. Doneness can also be detected by inserting a long-tined fork into the thickest area of the inner thigh. If the juices run clear, not pink, the turkey is done.

* As soon as your turkey is completely cooked, you should remove all the stuffing from the cavities. Harmful bacteria are more likely to grow in the stuffing if it sits in the bird after cooking.

* From the time you remove it from the oven, you have approximately two hours to serve the turkey, then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. The same rule goes for stuffing, gravy and other dishes. Bacteria, such as salmonella, can multiply to undesirable levels on perishable food left at room temperature longer than two hours. Use the leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days, or freeze them.

Following these food safety tips will help you ensure a Thanksgiving dinner that is safe. If you have questions about food safety, call the Denton County Extension Office at 940-349-2882.

MAGGIE JOVER is the family and consumer sciences county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. She can be reached at 940-349-2882.