Nutrition Corner: Keep your tukey safe to eat this Thanksgiving

November 19th, 2015 12:15 pm

Happy Thanksgiving! For those who like trivia, almost all of us will eat hen turkeys this Thanksgiving. Tom turkeys are four weeks older and weigh almost twice as much. And if you are in the woods and see a turkey, remember: only male turkeys gobble. Hens make a clicking sound.

Planning Thanksgiving dinner has always been a fun thing to do. In our minds we all picture sitting down to a true family dinner with mulled cider and wild rice stuffing. And some of us might! Now it’s the time to plan what our Thanksgiving dinner. It is also the time to review a few tips on how to keep Thanksgiving safe to eat.

Today more and more families are choosing to dine out, but if you’re one of those who choose to stay at home and feel a little inexperienced, here are some healthful tips to truly make your dinner a success and safe to eat:

Turkey Tip #1

Find space for a 20-pound turkey before you buy it. Food safety experts recommend only defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator. It takes approximately one day to defrost 5 pounds of meat. So if you have a 20-pound turkey, it will take a minimum of four days to defrost. If you do not have room in the refrigerator for that size turkey, maybe a 5-pound turkey breast would be a better selection.

Turkey Tip #2

Get others involved in planning, preparation, and clean up. Have a conversation now and plan for the help instead of the morning of dinner. Sit down together and decide how each person is going to help. Find out what foods the family would like for that special meal. Tastes and preferences change, so this is an important step. Plus family members will truly feel like they are a part of the meal.

Turkey Tip #3

Include local foods on your menu. Some farmers markets are still open and are selling apples, cabbage and winter squash.

Turkey Tip #4

Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. Experts recommend roasting a turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, no lower. Use an oven temperature to ensure that your oven is working properly at least three days before Thanksgiving.

Turkey Tip #5

Bake stuffing separate from the turkey. Stuffing recipes include ingredients that are hot. Stuffing the bird with warm ingredients creates a great environment for bacteria to grow. Also, when the bird is 165 degrees, the stuffing has not reached a safe temperature where all the bacteria is killed. It’s not worth the risk. Food safety experts recommend cooking the stuffing separately.

Turkey Tip #6

Remove the turkey from the oven when it reaches 165 degrees. Insert a chef’s or bimetallic thermometer in the thickest portion of the bird without touching the bone. If you do not have a chef’s or bimetallic thermometer we recommend that you purchase one.

Turkey Tip #7

Carve and enjoy the turkey within one hour. Refrigerate any leftovers with two hours from the time it was taken from the oven.

Although some of these tips may seem different than what your mom or grandmother did on Thanksgiving, remember there are new emerging pathogens with which they did not contend. Follow these turkey food safety tips to keep your Thanksgiving meal safe to eat.

Herb marinade

Here is a recipe to marinate your turkey this year. Marinating the night before ensures that your turkey is moist and flavorful.

It’s easy. Just place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag or foodservice grade plastic bag, pour in the marinade, close the bag securely and let it marinate overnight. Turkey should always be marinated in the refrigerator. Before cooking, be sure to scrape off excess marinade and discard. Do not re-use marinade to baste the turkey.

½ cup canola oil

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh sage

½ teaspoon salt

1 10 pound whole turkey, cleaned and drained well

Combine the oil, vinegar, herbs and seasonings together in a small bowl. Place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag.

Add marinade, close bag securely and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Oven roast until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F in the breast. Be careful not to touch any bone with the thermometer.

For a fact sheet on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, call 1-888-825-1701 for a copy of “Recipes for Thanksgiving.”

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at