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Food safety is #1 ingredient in Thanksgiving feast

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Thanksgiving means food, family, and fun, but it can be tough to give thanks if your holiday festivities are marred by foodborne illness.

To insure a healthier holiday season, the following precautions should be used when preparing the Thanksgiving turkey:

-Make sure everything is clean before preparing poultry or any other kind of perishable food.

Wash hands, sink, and surfaces such as counters and utensils before food preparation begins, and continue this cleaning process during and after food preparation as well.

-After the turkey has been purchased, store it in the freezer or refrigerator at home.

Never store a turkey in the car trunk, back porch, counter top, or any other place where the temperature can reach above 40 degrees.

-The refrigerator is the safest place to thaw turkey.

As thawing begins, bacteria can begin to multiply to levels that can cause foodborne illness.

Thawing the turkey in the refrigerator can retard that bacteria growth.

In general, about 24 hours in the refrigerator are needed to thaw five pounds of turkey, so if the turkey is 8- to 12-pounds, allow three to four days for thawing.

For a 20- to 24-pound turkey, allow four to five days.

Check the temperature of your refrigerator; the temperature should be at 40 degrees or below.

Put the turkey on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent turkey juices from dripping onto other foods.

-If the turkey is thawed in the microwave, it must be cooked immediately.

-To safely cook turkey, tuck the wing tips under the shoulders before placing the bird in a roasting pan with one-half cup of water and putting it in the oven.

(For safety, cook stuffing separate from the turkey.)

Loosely place a tent of foil over the turkey for the first 60-90 minutes of cooking time, and then remove the foil tent so the bird will brown.

Cook turkey at no lower than 325 degrees F.

-Cooking time will vary with the size of the turkey:

* 8- to 12-pound turkeys need about 2 3/4 to 3 hours to cook;

* 12- to 20 pound birds will cook in about 3 3/4 hours;

* 18- to 20-pound birds will take about 4 ½ hours to cook;

* 20- to 24-pound turkeys will take approximately 4 ½ to 5 hours to cook.

-The turkey is done when the internal temperature is 180 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh.

A meat thermometer is the best and safest way to gauge the internal temperature, even if the turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator. For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving.

-After the meal, refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Cut the meat from the bone, store in shallow containers and refrigerate. Use leftover turkey, stuffing, and gravies within 2-3 days or freeze and properly thaw and reheat later.

For further information, contact Rita M. Hodges, County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 701 South I-35 E, Waxahachie, or call:972-825-5175 or e-mail: rmhod ges@ag.tamu.edu

Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin. The Texas A & M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

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