Moist and Safe Bird on Turkey Day

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With turkey day less than a week away (I am still astounded it's November and summer is over) as a responsible dietitian I had better address the whole safe bird cooking and thawing thing.

First of all great news! You may be pleased to know that the internal temperature guidelines for cooking turkey, poultry in general, have officially changed from 180 degrees to 165 degrees per the United States Department of Agriculture. This is good news because it allows for a much moister bird. USDA concluded in April that salmonella and other bacteria are wiped out at 165 degrees so no need to go any higher unless you prefer the dryer meat.

With that said, when you do check turkey temp, do the 'triple dip' method. With the meat thermometer test the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh and the wing to ensure that all have reached the magic 165 degree temperature. Roast your turkey at an oven degree temperature of at least 325 degrees.

I'm going a little backwards so let me switch to safe thawing. Whatever you do, do not thaw your turkey on the kitchen counter! After 2 hours at room temperature bacteria can start growing pretty fast and then you may have some unhappy sick guests on your hands. There are 3 safe thaw methods:

1. Thaw in the refrigerator that is kept at a temperature of 40 degrees or below. Depending on how large your turkey is this can day 1-6 days so plan ahead!

2. Set your microwave on defrost and check your owners manual for number of minutes need. Make sure your turkey can fit in there ahead of time if you think you're going to go this route.

3. Place your turkey in a pot of cold water big enough to cover the turkey. Your bird needs to be in airtight packaging. Change the water every 30 minutes so your turkey doesn't get above 40 degrees. Again depending on the size of your turkey this can take anywhere from 2 to 12 hours.

As for stuffing, I don't recommend stuffing your turkey before cooking it because there's just too much room for food safety error. It takes longer for stuffing to cook inside the bird to an internal temp of 165 degrees. This will dry out your bird and it's just not worth taking the chance. You can use the turkey juices after it's been carved to moisten up the stuffing if that's your concern. (I personally like it dry but that's just me).

The USDA has a really good website that gives more specific details on how long to take when defrosting your bird and lots of other food safety tips at Let's Talk Turkey: A Consumer Guide to Safely Roasting a Turkey

Next week, probably Monday, I'll post some tips on how to enjoy a healthier Thanksgiving. Let me know what your concerns are over the weekend so I can try to address them.

Have a great weekend!

(Photo courtesy of eye of einstein)
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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