Don't let amateur cooking spoil your festivities

Friday, November 20, 2009

Drinkers sometimes joke that they stay home on New Year's Eve because it's "amateur night."

Home chefs might say the same thing about Thanksgiving, but it's important that big bird is prepared correctly to prevent friends and family from sharing bacterial diseases along with the white meat and stuffing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million Americans have foodborne illness annually, leading to approximately 5,000 deaths each year from outbreaks of bacterial diseases caused by salmonella and campylobacter.

"The biggest risk comes from undercooking," said Dr. Ben Chapman, food safety specialist and assistant professor of food science at North Carolina State University.

"Color is not an indicator of safety or doneness. We see suggestions in recipes about making sure 'the juices run clear' but that's a myth. You also have to worry about cross-contamination -- which can happen when countertops, sinks or utensils aren't being cleaned properly between use with raw meats and other foods."

There are a few simple things to remember when preparing your turkey:

* Clean and sanitize utensils and work surfaces after preparing raw turkey for roasting.

* Wash your hands after getting the turkey ready.

* Using a thermometer is important. Cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

* If you thaw the turkey in the fridge, as you should, plan ahead. It may take three or four days to fully thaw, and cooking a partially thawed turkey increases your risk of food poisoning.

* Thawing in or under water is messy and makes cross-contamination more likely.

* Using a microwave can result in some parts being cooked, others remaining frozen.

* To avoid cross-contamination, the frozen turkey should be left in the original frozen package. Plastic can be wrapped around the outside to keep the meat juices from dripping on ready-to-eat foods below, or the bird can be placed on a pan to catch the juices.

And after the meal, refrigerate leftover turkey within two ours of taking it out of the oven. It should be cooled to 41 degrees F quickly, which is best accomplished by putting the sliced up leftover turkey in one-quart resealable bags and laying them flat in the refrigerator.

You may only cook one or two turkeys a year, but following a few basic procedures can keep your family satisfied and healthy this holiday season.

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