Thanksgiving is perhaps the most popular food-related holiday in the United States. Families throughout the country sit down on the last Thursday in November every year to enjoy a delicious feast of tasty food, including turkey, pumpkin pie and everything in between. And one of the greatest parts of Thanksgiving is sometimes even more celebrated than the initial meal itself – the surplus of leftovers! Unfortunately, Thanksgiving foods tend to be stored haphazardly after the meal is done, and there is an unpleasant trend of post-Thanksgiving leftover consumers who end up sick from food poisoning when the holiday is over. Prepare your food safely and store it correctly to ensure that your holiday is free from any unwanted illnesses.
Safe handling and preparation of the meal is the first step toward a healthy Thanksgiving. Many home cooks are put off by the idea of cooking a whole Thanksgiving dinner at home, but even the most nervous of these amateur chefs eventually caves in. Whether this is your first time preparing Thanksgiving food or you have done it for years already, it is important to take note of several safety tips.
- Never purchase a fresh turkey more than 48 hours before the meal. You can buy a frozen turkey a couple of weeks ahead of time and keep it in your freezer.
- The best way to thaw your turkey is by moving it from the freezer to the refrigerator several days in advance. This provides a slow thawing method that won’t allow bacteria to grow on the meat. The second-best option is to place the whole frozen turkey (still packaged) in the sink and run cold water over it until it has thawed.
- Wash your hands before touching the raw turkey and immediately after touching it, before you come into contact with any other items or surfaces. Use hot water, antibacterial soap, and wash for at least 20 seconds.
- Use a food thermometer inserted at the thickest part of the turkey breast, and again at the inner part of the turkey thigh, to be sure the meat is fully cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Many cooks like to stuff their raw turkeys and cook everything at once. This can be done safely, but it does come with more risks than separate cooking. Always measure the turkey for doneness (not the stuffing), and prepare the stuffing in a separate bowl away from the raw turkey meat before filling the cavity of the bird.
- Do not rely on the included pop-up turkey timers that come with many packaged birds.
After the feast has been devoured, store the leftovers safely to prevent any unnecessary contaminants. Storing your leftover turkey meat, in particular, is just as important as cooking it properly. It may be tempting to let the leftovers sit on the table while everyone gathers to watch football or partake in some other family activity afterward, but don’t neglect your leftover storage! The turkey should always be handled first, but be sure to take care of your side dishes as well.
- Do not let the turkey sit for too long after the meal at room temperature. This will cause bacteria growth.
- The easiest way to store the leftover turkey is to shred the meat from the bones and keep it in shallow glass storage containers in the refrigerator.
- Do not refrigerate leftover turkey for longer than four days. If you want to keep the meat for longer than this, freeze it.
- To freeze leftover turkey, place the cooled, cooked turkey meat into gallon freezer bags and seal tightly. Store in the freezer for up to 2 months.
- Do not store stuffing inside the turkey. Always remove it and keep it a complete separate container.
- Refrigerate pumpkin pie after it has been sliced to help preserve freshness. Pies only have a refrigerator life of a couple of days.
- If you have kept any leftover gravy, always be sure to boil it before serving it again. This will help improve its safety as well as its taste!
By following these simple tips and directions, you will be well on your way to providing a safe and healthy holiday for yourself and your entire family. Happy Thanksgiving!