Saint Louis University

Donna Duberg, Clinical Laboratory Science at Saint Louis Univeristy
Donna Duberg, MA, MS, MT(ASCP)SM, CLS(NCA)
Assistant Professor of Clinical Laboratory Science

Germ expert Donna Duberg offers food safety tips for a healthy Thanksgiving dinner.

You have sent out invites for the big Thanksgiving dinner, picked out a fancy tablecloth to go with the plates and bought a 20-pound turkey. Now, before you grab Grandma's recipe box and don the apron, here's a quick refresher on some food safety tips for a healthy Thanksgiving dinner.

Poultry like turkeys are home to food illness-causing bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science and germ expert at Saint Louis University, says you can avoid the growth and spread of such bacteria by correctly thawing, cleaning, cooking and serving the turkey.

 

Environment matters
When you bring home the turkey, there are two possibilities - there is bacteria already sitting on the bird and/or existing bacteria from your house could spread to the turkey.

Before you start the process of cooking it, clean the kitchen counter and sink with either a one-part vinegar and nine-part water solution or hot, soapy water, Duberg says.

"Make sure you clean everything from the counter to the utensils and the cutting boards, so that bacteria from your kitchen do not transfer to the turkey."

Thaw it evenly
Duberg recommends three ways to thaw a turkey: refrigerating it for five to six days, putting it in cold water, or microwaving it.

For every pound, let the turkey sit in cold water (less than 40 Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes changing the water frequently. As the turkey sits in the water, the bird will thaw more evenly and at a temperature which slows the growth of bacteria.

"If you decide to thaw the turkey in a microwave, make sure you cook it immediately as some parts of the turkey may have heated unevenly and can start growing bacteria," Duberg says.

"Forty to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is the danger zone - that's when the turkey is most prone to growing bacteria. It is essential that the turkey thaw and be kept cold until cooking (less than 40 degrees)."

To stuff or not to stuff
Over the years, stuffing has been a topic of debate - should it be served separately or inside the turkey?

"If you plan to put the stuffing inside the turkey, make sure the temperature of the center of the stuffing is 165 degrees Fahrenheit," Duberg says.

According to CDC's guidelines on safely cooking a turkey, heating the stuffing to reach an internal temperature of 165 degree Fahrenheit will kill any bacteria on the turkey and prevent possible foodborne illnesses.

Cook it right
Before you begin cooking, Duberg says make sure the turkey completely thawed.

If you're cooking the turkey without the stuffing, check the temperature of the innermost part of the thigh, breast and wing with a food thermometer and make sure all are 165 degrees Fahrenheit, she says.

Serving order
Cooked turkey should not be left out for more than two hours.

"When the turkey is left out, any bacteria present will start growing. Children and the elderly with a weaker immune system could easily get sick," she says.

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