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How to Safely Cook a Turkey

Turkeys are an important part of many holiday meals. However, turkey can be a carrier of harmful bacteria. Keep you and your family safe by following these tips.

About turkeys
Uncooked turkeys can be kept frozen in a deep freezer for up to 1 year. Keep a turkey frozen until it is time to thaw and cook. If buying fresh turkey, refrigerate as soon as you get home. Do not purchase a fresh turkey more than two (2) days in advance of cooking. After purchasing, ensure the turkey is immediately placed in a refrigerator or freezer.

If you select a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, cook from the frozen state. Follow package directions for proper handling and cooking. It is recommended that you do not buy fresh pre-stuffed turkeys.

Thawing a turkey 
Never thaw a turkey at room temperature! This is can lead to harmful bacteria growing on the turkey. Leave the turkey in the original packaging and follow one of the following methods when thawing a turkey:
  • Refrigerator: place turkey in a container large enough to hold the juices and put it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Allow one (1) day for every four (4) pounds of turkey for defrosting time. Cook turkey immediately after thawing. 
  • Cold water method: use a clean and sanitized container or sink to hold the turkey. Make sure that turkey is in leak-proof plastic to prevent cross contamination. Place turkey breast side down and cover with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes to keep the surface of the turkey cold. Continue until turkey is thawed. Allow 30 minutes for each pound of turkey. Cook turkey immediately after it has thawed. 
Preparing a turkey
Wash hands before and after handling the turkey. Once thawed, remove the plastic wrap from turkey. Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity. Rinsing a turkey is not necessary and can spread bacteria wherever the water runs and splashes. Ensure any utensils or surfaces that have come into contact with the turkey or its juices are sanitized thoroughly before using them for other foods.
Wash dishes and utensils in hot soapy water to remove any juices or debris. Rinse well. Sanitize dishes and utensils in a sanitizing solution of 10 ml (2 tsp) or liquid household 5.25% chlorine bleach mixed with 1L (4 cups) of water. Ensure dishes are in the solution for at least 45 seconds.  Allow dishes to air dry.

For food contact surfaces, ensure they are cleaned with soap and water and then spray the sanitizing solution onto the surface and let stand for at least 1 minute.
Temperature of a turkey
Place an oven-safe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh meat, ensuring it is not touching a bone. Ensure that the turkey is cooked to 82°C (180°F). During cooking, limit the number of times the oven door is opened because it will increase the cooking time.

Stuffing is the last part of a turkey to cook as a turkey cooks from the outside in. It is safer to cook stuffing in the oven or on the stove top. If you choose to stuff your turkey, stuff it loosely just before roasting. Immediately after cooking, remove the stuffing and make sure it has been cooked to 74°C. If stuffing is not cooked to the correct temperature, put it in a covered, oven-safe container and return it to the oven to cook to the correct temperature. 
Serving a turkey
Ensure that the turkey is kept at 60 °C until it is served. Do not let the turkey sit out at room temperature.
Put leftovers into the refrigerator immediately after cooling. Cover all leftovers in the refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination. Ensure that cooked foods are kept separate from uncooked foods. Use leftovers within two or three days. When reheating leftovers, heat food to an internal temperature of 74°C. If freezing leftovers, use within 2 to 6 months for best quality.
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