Five Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving Dinner

FSIS and the Electrical Safety Foundation International explain how to cook a turkey properly and how to prevent injuries from fires, falls, poisonings, and electrical hazards.

Diane Van, deputy director of the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service's Food Safety Education Staff, offered advice on the agency's FoodSafety blog recently for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey properly. She answered common consumer questions fielded by staffers answering the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, which has been answering queries about holiday meals for more than 25 years. Van noted that the hotline will indeed be staffed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24. It's a toll-free call, 888-674-6854.

The usual hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern weekdays. Consumers also can ask a question in English or Spanish at AskKaren.gov 24 hours a day.

Van answered these questions:

How long will it take to cook two turkeys at the same time? The cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird —- not the combined weight. Use the weight of the smaller bird to determine cooking time. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the smaller bird first and then check the second bird. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When cooking two turkeys at the same time make sure there is enough oven space for proper heat circulation.

How long will it take to cook a turkey weighing over 25 pounds? To cook a large turkey, use the Timetables for Turkey Roasting for an unstuffed turkey which can be found in Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking. Add 10 minutes per pound for turkeys over 24 pounds. We don’t recommend stuffing a turkey over 24 pounds. Make sure you have a heavy pan large enough to hold the turkey. Be sure to make sure there is enough space in the oven for proper heat circulation.

If a turkey has a "pop-up" temperature indicator, do I still need to use a thermometer? Pop-up temperature indicators are constructed from a food-approved nylon. The indicator pops up when the food has reached the final temperature for safety and doneness. Pop-up temperature indicators have been produced since 1965 and are reliable to within 1 to 2 °F if accurately placed in the product. But it is also suggested that the temperature be checked with a conventional food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast to ensure safety.

Is it safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state? Yes, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during the cooking time. Remove the packages carefully with tongs or a fork.

FSIS warns that bacteria can survive in turkey or stuffing -— whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird -— that has not reached 165° F and may cause foodborne illness. All turkey meat, including any that remains pink, is safe to eat as soon as all parts reach at least 165 degrees. When a whole, stuffed turkey is removed from the oven, let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the bird. This allows for easier carving.

Cooks can't relax immediately after the big meal until the leftovers are stored; bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, so quickly chilling food reduces foodborne illness risks. FSIS advises cutting leftover turkey into small pieces, placing stuffing and meat into shallow containers, and refrigerating them at 40 or below or freezing within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days or freeze them, according to the agency, which offers step-by-step videos in English and Spanish on safely thawing, stuffing, roasting, brining, deep frying, smoking, and grilling a turkey at YouTube.com/USDAFoodSafety.

Another organization offering holiday safety advice this year is the Electrical Safety Foundation International, which launched its annual holiday safety campaign Nov. 7 to encourage families and communities across the country to Make Safety a Tradition of the winter holiday season.

There is a greater risk of fire and electrical hazards during the holidays, ESFI notes. "The hectic yet joyous nature of the holiday season can easily distract families from thinking about the hazards associated with this time of year," said foundation President Brett Brenner. "We are thrilled to be leading the effort to raise awareness of these often overlooked holiday hazards so that they can be identified and corrected before a serious situation can result."

ESFI said poisonings also increase during the winter holiday season, and about 5,800 people require treatment annually in hospital emergency rooms for injuries they sustain in falls involving holiday decorations. Another 4,000 people are treated in ERs annually for injuries associated with extension cords. The higher risk of poisonings involves both common household items and carbon monoxide.

The 2011 Make Safety a Tradition campaign encompasses all aspects of holiday safety, particularly children's safety. Visit this website for more information and to access ESFI's annual Holiday Safety Community Toolkit.

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