Public Health

Posted on: November 20, 2014

Don’t Get Sick This Thanksgiving!: Cooking & Storing Turkey and Leftovers

LINN COUNTY, IA – As Thanksgiving approaches, it is important to keep some basic food safety facts in mind. One of the most important things to remember when handling and preparing raw poultry and food is to continually wash hands, surfaces, and utensils that come in contact with raw turkey and its juices. Turkey, side dishes, and stuffing should be heated until they reach a minimum temperature of 140 °F and consumed or refrigerated within 2 hours of preparation. Optimal temperatures include 180°F for a whole turkey (thickest portion of the thigh), 170°F for a turkey breast (thickest portion of the breast), and 165°F for stuffing (center).
Keep food out of the “danger zone”, which is between 40 and 140°F. Temperatures within the danger zone are optimal for the growth of harmful bacteria and may lead to a foodborne illness. To ensure that the appropriate temperature is maintained, it is best to use a food thermometer to check and confirm internal temperatures. Within the 2 hour window, both hot and cold leftovers should be stored and refrigerated appropriately.

Storing Foods

When storing foods, all stuffing should be removed from the turkey cavity and placed in a separate container. Turkey meat should be removed from the cavity and sliced or cut into smaller pieces. However, turkey legs and wings may be kept whole for storage. Leftovers may be refrigerated or frozen in air tight, shallow containers for consumption at a later time. Refrigerated items should be kept at a temperature of 40 °F or below to minimize potential spoilage and consumed within 3 to 4 days of refrigeration. If applicable, frozen turkey, cooked poultry dishes, stuffing, and gravy should be reheated and consumed within 2 to 6 months of freezing. This time interval refers to the storage times that the product maintains food quality; however, frozen items may remain safe indefinitely.

Handling & Reheating Leftovers

Cooked turkey meat may either be reheated or eaten cold. Reheated foods should be heated in an oven or microwave to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Again, internal temperatures may be confirmed through the use of a food thermometer. Gravy must be consumed within 1-2 days and reheated to reach a rolling boil.

For additional information about foodborne illnesses and safe food preparation, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/Cade/Foodborne.aspx and www.cdc.gov/features/turkeytime

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