Cooking Dangers

For many families, home for the holidays means celebrating around the dinner table, and to prevent food poisoning, health officials say take caution in the kitchen.

"We tend to make more mistakes at home because we're in our comfortable environment. We’re using our things and we think that because we're doing it, then it's safe, but really we need to be careful to make sure we're doing good hand washing, cooking things long enough, make sure we're storing properly and make sure everything's nice and clean,” explains Christa Campbell.

Health experts say it's crucial to properly defrost meat. And the best way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator allowing 24 hours-per-pound of turkey. And if you don't have that much time, officials say submerge the turkey in water, changing the water every 30 minutes per pound of turkey.

Health experts also advise when the meal is complete don't leave it out for longer than two hours and don't store large.

"As we begin to store them we want to break it down and put them in shallow pans so they can cool quicker and so that we're not putting hot products in the refrigerator and then them not actually being able to cool,” Campbell adds.

Health officials say following simple guidelines for food safety could ensure your holiday feast does not turn into a holiday fiasco.

If you would like more information on safe food handling procedures you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. Extended Web Coverage

Safe Turkey Cooking Tips

  • If buying a frozen turkey, the safest way to defrost it is in the refrigerator, but keep in mind you need to allow 24 hours of defrosting for every 5 pounds of turkey. For Thanksgiving, that means a 20 pound frozen turkey needs to start defrosting on Sunday.

  • Don't defrost the turkey on the counter. A microwave is too small for most turkeys, but if using one, cook the turkey as soon as it is defrosted.

  • Turkeys wrapped in leak-proof plastic can be defrosted in cold water, but the water should be changed every 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes of defrosting per pound of turkey.

  • Buy a fresh turkey only one to two days before you plan to cook it.

  • Before preparing the turkey, clear and thoroughly clean the counter, as well as the cooking equipment which you may not have used since preparing last year's turkey.

  • Clean immediately with hot soapy water anything, including sponges and hands, that touches the raw turkey or juice.

  • Sanitize sponges by running them through your dishwasher.

  • When cooking a turkey, use a meat thermometer. Even if you use a "pop-up" thermometer, it's a good idea to check the temperature with a conventional meat thermometer. If you don't have one, pick one up at the grocery store as you're searching for the holiday items.

  • Set the oven no lower than 325 F and cook the turkey to 180 F in the inner thigh. The juices should run clear.

  • Here are approximate cooking times for turkey, but use a meat thermometer to verify doneness:

    Turkey Cooking Times

    Weight (pounds) Unstuffed Cooking Time (hours) Stuffed Cooking Time (hours)
    8 to 12 2 3/4 to 3 3 to 3 1/2
    12 to 14 3 to 3 3/4 3 1/2 to 4
    14 to 18 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 4 to 4 1/4
    18 to 20 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 4 1/4 to 4 3/4
    20 to 24 4 1/2 to 5 4 3/4 to 5 1/4

    Source: (Center for Science in the Public Interest Web site) contributed to this report.