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Guests will be thankful for kitchen hygiene

There are many side dishes commonly associated with Thanksgiving, but nothing is more iconic than carving a fresh-cooked turkey while the family gathers around the dinner table.

The Minnesota Department of Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture offer the following turkey cooking and handling guidelines to make sure the only discomfort guests feel Thanksgiving night is from eating too much of that delicious food.

Foremost is to keep hands clean by washing them with soap and water before and after handling food or after using the restroom, MDH information officer Doug Schultz said.

“That’s probably rule number one,” Schultz said. “It goes a long way toward avoiding contaminating the food and avoids passing potential diseases, like norovirus, directly to others.”

Making sure the kitchen and utensils stay clean also will help stop bacteria from spreading, the MDH says. Food should be served on clean plates and kept clear of platters and utensils that came in contact with raw poultry.

Another main element to food safety is to “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold,” Schultz said.

When preparing a fresh turkey, the USDA recommends purchasing it one or two days before it will be cooked and kept in the refrigerator until it’s ready to go into the oven.

The MDH suggests avoiding fresh turkey that comes pre-stuffed, as bacteria in the stuffing can multiply inside the bird if handled incorrectly.


As an alternative to fresh, frozen turkeys can be purchased months ahead of the big meal. When it comes time to thaw it out, the three recommended methods — in the refrigerator, cold water or a microwave — each have some details to keep in mind.

When thawing in a refrigerator, the USDA says to keep the turkey in its wrapping and put a plate or pan underneath to catch juices. It will take around 24 hours for every four or five pounds for a turkey to completely thaw.

If using cold water, it is important to keep the turkey wrapped tightly enough so that none of the water can leak through when submerged, according to the USDA. It also is recommended that the water be changed every 30 minutes. This method will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw.

Because microwaves heat differently, officials say to check the owner’s manual for thawing directions. The USDA also says to cook the turkey immediately after thawing in a microwave and not to refreeze it.


Health officials recommend roasting turkey in a shallow pan in at least a 325-degree oven.

A 14-18 pound, unstuffed turkey should cook between 3.75 and 4.25 hours until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, the USDA says. Stuffing will add about 15 minutes to the cooking time.

Test doneness by inserting a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh for a whole turkey or the thickest part of a breast, being careful not to touch any bones.

To help ensure the meat and stuffing are cooked evenly, the MDH recommends heating stuffing in a separate dish.

The aftermath

To keep leftovers safe, turkey, stuffing and gravy should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of being set out, according to the MDH. Anything kept out longer should be thrown away.

The MDH says to eat refrigerated turkey and stuffing within three to four days, and gravy within one or two days. It is recommended that leftovers be reheated to 165 degrees to destroy bacteria.

More information on proper food handling can be found at

For answers to turkey preparation and food safety questions, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854. The hotline will be open Thanksgiving from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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