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Five Tips for Safe Turkey Preparation

By Theresa Anderson, RD, CDE

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With the holidays fast-approaching, now is the time to begin thinking about what you will be serving friends and family.

Many people grew up years ago in homes where traditional turkey prep and storage would make today’s food safety experts cringe at the risky practices. Some will remember the large holiday bird thawing on the counter, unrefrigerated, for days.

This year, in addition to swapping your grandmother’s stuffing recipe for a healthier alternative, keep a few safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in mind in order to ensure you and your guests stay healthy this holiday season.

1. Safe Thawing: Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. According to the CDC, the “danger zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees. Frozen whole turkeys are best thawed in the refrigerator, and how long it takes depends on the size of the bird.

2. Safe Preparation: Remember that poultry can easily contaminate surfaces and hands, leading to risk of cross-contamination with other foods you may be preparing. It is best to avoid using wooden cutting boards and carefully clean hands, surfaces and utensils after turkey preparation.

3. Safe Cooking: Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees and cook the turkey to a temperature no less than 165 degrees. Cooking times vary depending on the size of your holiday bird. Stuffing is safest when cooked separately to avoid absorption of bacteria. If you like a stuffed turkey, consider baking the stuffing separately, then stuffing the fully-cooked turkey prior to serving.

4. Safe Storage: Never leave leftovers out for an extended period of time. Refrigerate leftovers in air tight containers at 40 degrees or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.

With just a few simple preparation precautions, you can help ensure your family will safely enjoy a bird that not only looks beautiful, but tastes great this holiday season.

Visit CDC.gov for more tips on safe turkey preparation.  A food safety alert for romaine lettuce was issued by the CDC on November 20. The CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce until they learn more about the outbreak.

Wild Rice and Basmati Rice with Sage Dressing

1 lb lower-fat chicken or turkey sausage
2 T olive oil1 large onion, chopped
¼ lb mushrooms, sliced
2/3 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 T fresh sage, chopped
2 bay leaves
2/3 cup basmati rice
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hazelnuts, chopped and roasted (optional)

1. In a large pot, break up and cook sausage until browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside, discard fat and wipe pan.
2. In the same pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in wild rice. Add broth, sage and bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 35 minutes.
4. Stir in basmati rice. Cover and cook until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, discard bay leaves, and stir in sausage and remaining spices. Top with hazelnuts if desired.