Serving up Thanksgiving food safety tips; turkey thawing, cooking recommendations

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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – The Palmetto Poison Center is serving up food safety tips and sharing some preparation advice ahead of Thanksgiving.

Due to COVID-19 recommendations and guidelines from health officials, we know more people are staying home this Thanksgiving. Some of those people may be cooking the holiday meal for the first time.

Health experts share tips on properly thawing and preparing your turkey, and reminds households if you wait until Thanksgiving to take the bird out of the freezer, it will be too late.

 The Palmetto Poison Center says a trigger for foodborne illness is cross-contamination.

“We are going to have a lot of first-time bird cookers this year,” Christina DeRienzo, Education Coordinator at Palmetto Poison Center, said. 

The center suggests thawing your turkey one of two ways.

  1. refrigerator thawing, which requires some planning ahead as it needs 24 hours to thaw every five pounds.
  2. But, if you have a turkey heavier than five pounds and is not already in the refrigerator thawing, option two is cold water thawing. 

Coldwater thawing is known to be the quickest method but requires more attention.

“You have to make sure you put it in a container that does not leak so that it is maintained and submerged and that you change the water every 30 minutes to make sure it maintains a cold temperature and make sure it doesn’t spoil,” DeRienzo said. 

The cold water technique should take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Once thawed by the cold water method, cook your turkey immediately. For proper timing, here is a Turkey Thawing Chart.

Health officials also warn about holiday cooking cross-contamination. They say washing the turkey is one of the most common cooking mistakes.

The USDA recommends not washing your turkey to avoid cross-contamination. Washing raw turkey, they say, can cause bacteria to spread three to five feet away.

Cooking, baking, frying, or grilling meat and poultry to the right temperature kills the bacteria, according to U.S. health officials.

However, if you decide to wash the turkey, local experts say handle on a surface with raised edges and away from all food and utensils.

“You should never prepare your turkey on the surface where you are cutting fresh vegetables. The fluids from the turkey could touch your fresh vegetables, and that fluid can equal harmful bacteria like salmonella that contributes to food poisoning,” DeRienzo said.

Here are a few other Thanksgiving food safety reminders from The Palmetto Poison Center: 

  • Eat leftovers within three days
  • Cook your turkey to at least 165 degrees
  • Insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey to measure temperature. 
  • Do not leave prepared foods at room temperature for longer than two hours

The Palmetto Poison Center provides free services to all South Carolinians, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To contact the Palmetto Poison Center, call 1-800-222-1222. 

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