Nothing says Thanksgiving quite like a well-cooked turkey.
Getting that bird onto the table tends to take some work, however. If not done properly, that work could get one or more people sick.
“When you are dealing with turkey, you are dealing with salmonella,” said Jeff Yourdon, culinary arts program chair at Lenoir Community College. “There are raw juices in these birds and when you cook them to 165 degrees that kills the bacteria in those juices. But if you buy that bird at a store and the packaging rips, those juices can spill easily.”
Salmonella is a bacterial infection commonly caused by contaminated food or water. Juices stored inside of poultry items are a source of that bacteria and it can spread to other food items quickly.
If a person eats food contaminated by salmonella, they can develop pain in their abdomen, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and headaches that can last up to seven days.
In order to minimize spreading those bacteria, before a turkey is cooked, Yourdon said he recommends storing the bird on a pan with a high lip to prevent juice and bacteria from spreading to other foods.
When it comes time prepare a Thanksgiving meal Yourdon also recommended cooking turkey before any other food and minimizing the amount of food home chefs have out at once.
“There’s a temptation to have everything out and ready all at once, but I tell people if you need two onions, take out two onions and that’s it. If you need six potatoes, just pull out six potatoes,” he said.
Yourdon also recommends cooks keep prepared cleaning supplies on-hand to keep work areas sanitized as they go. Preparing food on a work space previously occupied by chicken or turkey creates a risk of cross-contamination. Similarly, having too much food out for too long opens up the door for other bacterial infections to form and spread.
Once the bird is in the oven, Yourdon prefers to use a meat thermometer to gauge how well done it is.
Meat thermometers allow cooks to check the internal temperature of food by pushing a metal rod into the meat and using a display to check heat levels.
“It’s a good tool to have. They cost like $7 or $8 but when it comes to cooking poultry and things like that they are really helpful,” he said.
The recommended temperature for a properly cooked turkey is at 165 degrees measured around the thigh area, which takes the longest time to cook properly.
“You might just check the breast and it’s at 165 and when you cut it open it’s pretty and juicy like you want, but when you get to the leg the meat is still red and there is still blood in there,” he said.
If anyone is worried about an unevenly cooked bird, Yourdon said cooks can cover the breast of a turkey with aluminium foil while waiting on thighs to reach the proper temperature, then uncover the breast and continue cooking.
Dustin George can be reached at 252-559-1077 or Dustin.George@Kinston.com.