The holidays are just around the corner, are you prepared? Planning and remembering all the things you need to do with the regard to food safety is a key point in a successful holiday meal.
No matter if you are planning an intimate dinner for two or planning a meal for 50, food safety is a must! I am always extra cautious when it comes to fixing poultry, whether it’s a turkey, chicken, duck or goose. Poultry is a great source for salmonella and I’m sure you don’t want to make your guests sick!
When planning your meal, make sure that you have enough refrigerator space to thaw out the turkey or whatever meat you are planning on serving. Plus room for salads, pie, fresh veggies and drinks. Another thing to plan on is oven space! Will you have to cook the turkey the day before? Can you make the rolls ahead of time? Can the salads be made a couple of days in advance or that morning?
When you are ready to thaw out the turkey, keep it in the original, unopened wrapper and place it on a tray that will prevent the turkey juices from dripping on other foods. The best place to put the turkey would be the bottom shelf of the fridge. You will need about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey. If you have a 10 pound turkey it will take at least 2 days and 12 hours. A 20 pound turkey it could take 5 days. Make sure your fridge temp is around 38 to 40 degrees.
If you forgot to get the turkey out soon enough, place the turkey, still in its original wrapper, in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. You can then submerge the bag in COLD water. NEVER use warm or hot water as that can cause the outer layer of the meat to heat up to a temperature where bacteria can begin to grow. Change the water every 30 minutes to make sure the water stays COLD.
This process will take time, approximately, 30 minutes for every pound. This process isn’t highly recommended. Once the turkey is defrosted this way make sure it is cooked immediately. Do not refreeze the thawed out turkey. It can only be placed in the freezer after it’s been cooked.
NEVER, EVER, defrost a turkey on the counter at room temperature or in HOT water. The turkey will be sitting in the danger zone which is 41 degrees to 140 degrees for too long to be safe. Bacteria grows at a phenomenal rate in the DANGER ZONE!
If this is your first time cooking a turkey, always remove the package of giblets and the neck from the bird! I don’t know anyone that hasn’t left that package in a bird at one time or another!! Myself included!!
If you are planning to cook the bird the day before, make sure you cool down the meat as quickly as possible. The meat should be at least 165 degrees when removed from the oven. Never trust the pop up timer that comes with the turkey. Use a meat thermometer! Pack the meat with ice. I put ice in zip lock bags and place it around the bird, then put the turkey in the fridge. The temperature should be 70 degrees within 2 hours and 40 degrees within the next 4 hours. If not cooled to at least 40 degrees harmful bacteria can grow. The next day check the temperature to make sure the meat is at 38-40 degrees. If you plan on warming it up, make sure to cook it to a temperature of 165 degrees. If the temperature reads anything above 41 degrees I recommend you throw out the meat! The turkey will be filled will harmful bacteria!
If you are planning on serving fresh fruits or vegetables, make sure you wash them thoroughly. Fact is, fresh fruits and vegetables have been linked to more outbreaks of foodborne illness than any other type of food. That’s why it is SO IMPORTANT not to use the same utensils or cutting boards and that you wash your hands and counters after handling the raw meat. Once produce has become contaminated, it can be very hard to get the bacteria like salmonella and E. coli off. You will want to scrub produce thoroughly in cool water. Once again always store produce at 38-40 degrees and toss out any bruised or slightly rotting fruits.
There are a few tips on keeping everyone safe with your holiday foods. First and foremost…..WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE HANDLING ANY FOOD. Yes that sounds like a no brainer, but, in reality you can cross contaminate so many things by just wiping your hands on a towel. If you are working with food and happen to touch your nose or itch your eye and then touch the rolls or some other ready to eat food, you have just contaminated that piece of food. Wash your hands often and you should wash them for at least 20 seconds.
ALWAYS KEEP A SANITIZER SOLUTION HANDY. It doesn’t have to be an expensive solution, but make sure it’s food safe!! You can wipe down the counters with a solution made from 1 Tablespoon bleach to a gallon of water. Always wipe down counters after working with meat, especially if you are going to prepare salads or vegetables on the same counter. You do not want to cross contaminate the bloody raw meat on to the ready to eat foods. Another tip, NEVER use the same knife or cutting board for the meat and vegetables.
KEEP PEOPLE AWAY IF SHOWING SIGNS OF NAUSEA, VOMITING, OR DIARRHEA. Once again, you want your family to stay healthy.
All these tips don’t just apply to turkey. They apply to everything you cook!
Make sure you have room in the fridge for leftovers. Foods need to be put away within 2 hours of serving. DO NOT KEEP THE LEFTOVER TURKEY ON THE COUNTER. Once again the meat needs to be cooled quickly. As does all the other leftovers such as potatoes, vegetables, salads, etc.
As for the leftovers, try to eat everything up within 3 to 4 days. After that, throw it out. You can refreeze the meat, but do that within 1 or 2 days.
You don’t have to be afraid to cook your holiday meal. I know it can be a bit overwhelming but with planning and safety precautions, you should have a great holiday!! Most importantly….WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN AND BE CAREFUL ABOUT CROSS CONTAMINATION!
Enjoy your holiday!!