The turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table, but if it's not thawed, stuffed, or cooked, properly, this innocent-looking (and theoretically golden-brown) bird can be the source of some serious food-borne diseases. Here are four ways turkey can make you sick (and how to avoid them):
When a turkey is left to thaw on a kitchen counter or outdoor porch, its temperature can become unsafe as it moves into the bacteria danger zone of between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're dealing with a frozen turkey it’s best to thaw it one of three ways: in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, in a refrigerator, or in a microwave on the defrost setting (if the bird is small enough). Just remember that although thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is the easiest solution, it’s also the most time-consuming; it takes 48 hours to fully thaw a ten-pound bird.
Raw poultry is at an especially high risk of carrying salmonella. Make sure to use a separate cutting boards and knives when preparing the raw turkey so as to avoid contaminating other foods.
Undercooked turkey can easily lead to food-borne illnesses, especially for children and the elderly, who have weaker immune systems. To kill all the potentially harmful bacteria that exist in and on raw turkey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cooking turkey, as well as other forms of poultry, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to check this is with a food-grade thermometer.
Contaminating the Stuffing
Cooking stuffing inside the turkey’s cavity can contaminate it with bacteria. The best way to circumvent this problem is to fill the turkey just before cooking, and make sure the stuffing is a little bit moist because heat destroys bacteria more effectively in a damp environment. To guarantee that all the potentially harmful microbes have been killed, use a food thermometer to check that the stuffing has also reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Better yet, cook the stuffing alongside the turkey in a baking dish for covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes, and finish cooking uncovered for another 15 minutes.