Illness This Holiday Season - Safety Tips for Handling the Turkey Dinner
Washington, D.C. (SafetyAlerts) - "How long can a
turkey be kept in the freezer?" This question is often heard by the food safety
specialists answering USDAs Meat and Poultry Hotline. Although the optimum freezing
time for quality -- best flavor and texture -- is 1 year, consumers are usually surprised
to learn that, from a safety standpoint, frozen turkeys may be kept indefinitely in a
Although turkey is enjoyed year
round, the peak time for buying, cooking, and storing whole turkeys is the November and
December holiday season. This is the time we see a large increase in the number of whole
turkeys for sale in our local grocery stores.
When choosing a Turkey this
holiday season, consumers may see quite a few different terms on the label of the birds.
Although there is normally very little distinguishable difference in the quality
and nutrition of turkeys, understanding labeling definitions can help consumers make
informed decisions and choose a turkey that best meets their particular needs.
BASTED or SELF-BASTED
Bone-in poultry products (such as whole birds) that are injected or marinated with
a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water, plus spices,
flavor enhancers, and other approved substances must be labeled as "basted" or
"self-basted". The maximum added weight of approximately 3% solution before
processing is included in the net weight on the label. Labels must include a statement
identifying the total quantity and common or usual name of all ingredients in the
solution, e.g., "Injected with approximately 3% of a solution of _____________ (list
When using the terms
"basted" or "self-basted" on boneless poultry products (such as turkey
breasts and roasts), the solution is limited to 8% of the weight of the raw poultry before
FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING
In order to use these terms on a label, producers must demonstrate to USDA that the
poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
Turkeys to be sold as "fresh" must be stored at a temperature no lower
than 26 °F.
Turkeys sold as "frozen" must be stored at 0 EF or below.
A young turkey, usually less than 16 weeks of age and of either sex.
HEN or TOM TURKEY
The sex designation of "hen" (female) or "tom" (male) turkey is
optional on the label and is an indication of size rather than tenderness.
"Kosher" may be used only on the labels of turkeys that are prepared under
Minimally processed could include: (a) those traditional processes used to make
food edible or to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption, e.g., smoking,
roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting; (b) those physical processes which do not
fundamentally alter the raw product and/or which only separate a whole turkey into parts
or grinding of the turkey.
Turkey containing no artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical
preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and is minimally processed
(a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled
"natural." The label must explain the use of the term "natural" (e.g.,
no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed).
The term "no antibiotics added" may be used on labels for poultry
products if the producer sufficiently documents to FSIS that the animals were raised
Hormones are not allowed in raising poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones
added" cannot be used on the labels of poultry unless it is followed by a statement
that says, "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
The term "organic" has not yet been defined by the USDA, although the Department
is currently working on a definition. Until the definition is final, USDA is permitting
certain meat and poultry products to be labeled "certified organic by (name of
certifying entity)." The label must be pre-approved by USDA and the claim must meet
certain basic criteria. The certifying entity must have standards that define what
constitutes an "organically produced" product and a system for ensuring that the
products meet those standards.
After You Buy Your
There are many steps and
safegaurds taken by the FSIS to help ensure your recieve safe quality turkeys. After
you have purchased a bird, there are things you can do to prevent foodborne illness and
FRESH TURKEYS -
Those to be sold fresh are quick-chilled, prior to your purchase, to 40 °F or
lower, but must not go below a temperature of 26 °F.
Fresh turkeys should be
refrigerated and used within 1 to 2 days from purchase, or they can be frozen for safe
FROZEN TURKEYS -
Those to be sold frozen are rapidly frozen in blast freezers before they are shipped to
the stores. The commercial blast freezer quickly takes the turkey to a freezing
temperature, ensuring optimum safety and quality. They are then stored in freezers at 0
°F or below. Both fresh and frozen turkeys are transported in refrigerated trucks to
After purchase, frozen turkeys
should be placed in a freezer until ready to be thawed. There are three safe ways to thaw
is best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. A large frozen item like
a turkey requires at least a day (24 hours) for every 4 to 5 pounds of weight. Once thawed
in the refrigerator, it can remain refrigerated for a day or two before cooking. Turkey
thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some
loss of quality.
This method is faster than refrigerator thawing, but requires more attention. The
turkey should be in leak-proof packaging or a plastic bag. Submerge the turkey in cold tap
water, changing the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes per pound. After
thawing, refrigerate the turkey and cook it promptly. Turkey thawed by the cold water
method should be cooked before refreezing.
After microwave thawing, cook the turkey immediately because some areas of the
turkey may become warm and begin to cook. Holding partially-cooked food is never
recommended because any bacteria present would not have been destroyed and may have
reached temperatures at which bacteria can grow. Foods thawed in the microwave should be
cooked before refreezing.
Raw turkey skin color is off white
to a cream color. The color under the skin can range from pink to lavender or blue,
depending on the amount of fat just under the skin.
Using a food thermometer is the
only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine the "doneness" of
most foods. To be safe, a food must be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to
destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present. In fact, one of the critical factors in
controlling bacteria in food is controlling temperature. Pathogenic microorganisms grow
very slowly at low temperatures (40 °F and below), multiply rapidly in mid-range
temperatures (the "Danger Zone"), and are killed at temperatures above 160 °F.
It is essential to use a thermometer when cooking meat and poultry to prevent undercooking
and, consequently, prevent foodborne illness.
Research has shown that, despite
the critical importance of using a food thermometer, only 50 percent of consumers use
them. Cookware manufacturers are trying to change this by developing food thermometers
that are more visually appealing and easier to use. Some thermometers are larger and
easier to read, some come in fashionable colors, and some appeal to the
"gadget-lovers." To see some of the available types of thermometers click here.
When cooking whole poultry, the
thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. If poultry is stuffed,
the center of the stuffing should be checked after the thigh reads 180 °F.The stuffing
must reach 165 °F. If cooking poultry parts, insert the thermometer into the
thickest area, avoiding the bone. The thermometer may be inserted sideways if necessary.
When the food being cooked varies in thickness, the temperature should be checked in
For additional food safety
information about meat, poultry, or eggs, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
at 1 (800) 535-4555