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Tips to safely prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

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If you are serving turkey this Thanksgiving, be sure to handle it with extra care.  Here’s how:

A fresh turkey should be bought within 1-2 days prior to being cooked, and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. If you opt for a frozen turkey, for safety sake you must thaw the bird correctly. If you choose to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator leave it in its original packing and place in a shallow pan. Allow plenty of thaw time because it takes 24 hours to thaw 4-5 pounds of turkey. Depending on the size of your bird you may be looking at 2-4 days before it is thaws out. Another way to thaw a frozen turkey is to submerge it in a clean bowl filled with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. As a rule of thumb, thawing this way takes about 30 minutes per pound so plan accordingly.

When it comes to raw poultry proper handling is paramount; bacteria can spread quickly throughout the kitchen so be sure to wash counters, knifes, boards frequently.  Always wash your hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling the turkey. Whether you are roasting, grilling or deep frying your bird, it is essential to cook it to the proper internal temperature - 165 °F. Determine this by inserting a food thermometer into the thickest part of the bird’s thigh, but not touching the bone.

For leftover turkey, remove any stuffing and separate the meat from the bones within 2 hours of when it was cooked. Leftover turkey and stuffing will stay fresh in tightly sealed containers for 3-4 days or up to 3 months if it is frozen.

As for reheating turkey, again make sure to heat the meat to an internal temperature of 165 °F. When your plate of food is steaming hot you can feel confident that it’s free of nasty bacteria.  If you are warming a plate of food using a microwave, be sure there are no cold spots.  

Throw away the leftover turkey left in your fridge after 4 days. Best advice: when in doubt, toss it out.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in New York City and author of the Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with fiber as well as the bestselling F-Factor Diet. In partnership with the Hain Celestial Group, Tanya has a national line of high-fiber foods marketed under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.