Talking Turkey: Safely Prepare Your Thanksgiving Dinner

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Preparing a Thanksgiving turkey isn't easy. In fact, it can be dangerous - even after putting down the carving knife.
   
Health experts warn your Thanksgiving gobbler could be contaminated with salmonella. Family physician Phillip Snyder explained that while a tainted bird will make most people ill, for others it can be deadly.

"People usually develop diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and they will start to feel flu-like symptoms," Snyder told CBN News. "Most people will get through these just fine in four to seven days."

"But people who are very young, like infants or young children or elderly individuals or somebody with a compromised immune system, they will have a harder time fighting the infection," he said.

Safely Handling Raw Turkey

Salmonella is found in raw turkey. Virginia Culinary Institute instructor David Miller said turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

"If you have to rush it, the best way to do it is under cool, running water so the turkey is covered, but the water stays running the whole time. The water should be draining," Chef Miller explained.

Because the raw juices can infect everything they touch, it's best to put your turkey in a pan in the fridge.

"After you've been handling the raw bird, you need to make sure the surfaces are clean, the knives are clean, and you wash your hands real thoroughly before handling anything else," Miller advised.

Use soap to kill bacteria, or to be most cautious mix a tablespoon of bleach into a gallon of warm water. Use paper towels because bacteria can breed in sponges.

The old-fashioned way of cooking turkey for a very long time at a low temperature isn't safe because it doesn't kill the bacteria that may be present. Instead, the oven should be at least 325 degrees.

Cook the bird until it reaches 165 degrees at the innermost part. Most chefs do not recommend stuffing a turkey because by the time the stuffing reaches 165 degrees the rest of the turkey is overcooked.

Tips on Leftovers

When it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers beware of a different kind of bacteria: E. coli.

"Any time you get a food-borne illness it will take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours to know that you're starting to get the symptoms," Dr. Snyder explained.

"So, oftentimes it's very difficult to know when it's a food-borne illness versus a viral infection that can give you intestinal symptoms," he said.

The bacteria danger zone is between 40 and 140 degrees, so get those leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours, separating any big dishes into small containers.

Then eat or freeze those leftovers within four days.

Frying Your Turkey

When it comes to turkey safety, use extreme caution when deep frying. It's become a popular way to cook Thanksgiving dinner, but with lots of hot oil and an open flame, it's also very dangerous.

Overfilling the turkey fryer is the most common mistake. To prevent this, first test with water how much oil you'll need. Don't put your fryer in a garage or up against a wall, and make sure your turkey is completely dry and defrosted before you slowly place it in the oil.

Virginia Beach Fire Chief Tim Riley said Thanksgiving is the peak day for home fires.

"You should always have gloves," he said. "You should always have eye goggles, you should never be on the deck; you should never be inside. Have a stable platform and be familiar with the operation of your turkey fryer."

There is only one exception to outdoor frying. That's if you're using a turkey fryer specifically made for indoor frying.

Regardless of how you're cooking your turkey, if you get a minor burn, put it under cool water. Do not put ice or butter on it.

"If the skin does break, make sure and keep that area covered to prevent a secondary infection," Dr. Snyder advised. "And if there's a blister, try not to pop the blister. Keep it covered and don't use hydrogen peroxide because that's going to damage the cells that are trying to repair the injury."

Hopefully these turkey safety tips will help you and your family side step any mishaps and fully enjoy the blessings of Thanksgiving.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.