State Offers Tips on How to Prepare Food Safely for Thanksgiving Day

Prevent Food Borne Illness by Practicing Food Safety for Holiday Meals

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 23, 2010) – New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker and Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. today reminded consumers to follow safe cooking and preparation tips when preparing meals during the holidays. Many food borne illnesses are preventable if consumers take simple measures to protect themselves and their families.

"Thanksgiving is a day that we all gather together to give thanks for many different things, one of which is good health," Commissioner Hooker said. "We want to make sure good health remains on your list this holiday season and that New Yorkers follow proper procedures to prevent accidental food borne illness. The steps outlined below are simple, yet essential in ensuring that your holidays are filled with both health and happiness."

"While anyone may experience food borne illness, it's especially serious for pregnant women, babies and the elderly who may have fragile immune systems," Dr. Daines added. "This holiday, to avoid illness, it's important for New Yorkers and their families to practice safe food handling, preparation and storage."

Safe and proper food handling practices in the home are critical in preventing food borne illnesses. One top concern this time of year is the increased risk of illness resulting from stuffing turkeys prior to cooking. Food safety experts recommend cooking stuffing separately from the turkey to avoid the potential for bacteria growth. Here are some other tips to follow for a safe holiday season:

  • Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator at 45 degrees, not on the counter. Thawing at room temperature promotes bacteria growth. Be sure to allow 24 hours of defrosting for each five pounds of turkey.
  • The safest way to cook the stuffing is separate from the turkey. Stuffing placed in an uncooked turkey is susceptible to bacteria growth. However, if you choose to cook the stuffing in the turkey, stuff it loosely to ensure safe, even cooking, and be sure the stuffing in the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Be sure to thoroughly cook the turkey at 325 degrees. Cooking a turkey at less than 325 degrees is unsafe because it allows the turkey and stuffing to remain in the danger zone for bacterial growth for too long. A whole turkey should reach an internal temperature of 180 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature, even if the turkey has a "pop up" temperature indicator.
Unstuffed Turkey Cooking Time Stuffed Turkey Cooking Time
8 – 12 lbs. 2.75 – 3 hours 8 – 12 lbs. 3 – 3.5 hours
12 – 14 lbs. 3 – 3.75 hours 12 – 14 lbs. 3.5 – 4 hours
14 – 18 lbs. 3.75 – 4.25 hours 14 – 18 lbs. 4 – 4.5 hours
18 – 20 lbs. 4.25 – 4.5 hours 18 – 20 lbs. 4.25 – 4.75 hours
20 – 24 lbs. 4.5 – 5 hours 20 – 24 lbs. 4.75 – 5.25 hours
  • Do not interrupt the cooking process. Interrupting the cooking process promotes bacteria growth.
  • When preparing your meal, thoroughly wash hands, cutting boards and utensils before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood apart from foods that won't be cooked.
  • Be careful with holiday buffets. Servings should be kept small and replenished often directly from the stove or refrigerator. The longer food is kept out, especially beyond two hours, the higher the risk of food poisoning. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  • Carefully store leftovers. Slice the turkey before refrigerating; whole turkeys do not store safely in the refrigerator. Store the turkey and stuffing in separate, shallow, covered containers and refrigerate at 45 degrees or below within two hours of cooking. Perishable foods left at room temperature for longer than two hours are susceptible to bacterial growth. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within four days, and gravy within two days.

Consumers can learn more about food safety tips at the Department of Health's Web site at http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/food_safety, or the Department of Agriculture and Markets' Web site at http://www.agmkt.state.ny.us/FS/Holiday_Turkey_Safety_Tips.pdf