Turkey: Get the Best From Your Bird (cont.)

The real concern, as always, is viruses and bacterial contamination. So keep these safety tips in mind on Thanksgiving (and anytime you're preparing food):

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw foods separate from cooked foods.
  • Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, sink, countertops and anything that comes in contact with raw turkey with hot, soapy water.
  • Sanitize cutting boards with a weak bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach in 1 quart water).

To Stuff or Not to Stuff?

In many families, stuffing the bird has long been the preferred method of cooking. But the Department of Agriculture advises against this practice because of the risk of food-borne illness.

"It is difficult for the stuffing to reach the internal temperature of 165 degrees even when the meat is done," warns Diane Van, USDA meat and poultry hotline manager.

So instead of putting the stuffing inside the bird, experts advise, cook it separately in a casserole dish.

Cooking Time

The National Turkey Federation and USDA suggest following these guidelines -- along with using a meat thermometer -- when roasting an unstuffed bird:

  • 8-12 pounds: 2 3/4 to 3 hours
  • 12-14 pounds: 3 to 3 3/4 hours
  • 14-18 pounds: 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours
  • 18-20 pounds: 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours
  • 20-24 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 hours

As you prepare for your upcoming celebration, keep these safety and preparation tips in mind to make sure you enjoy a happy and healthy holiday.

Originally published November 17, 2005.
Medically updated November 10, 2006.

SOURCES: News release, American Dietetic Association/ConAgra Foods Foundation. University of Minnesota Poultry University. National Turkey Federation web site. Jackie Newgent, RD, culinary nutritionist; national spokesperson, American Dietetic Association/Con Agra Foods home food safety program. Diane Van, manager, U.S. Department of Agriculture meat and poultry hotline.

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