Safely Handling and Storing Thanksgiving Turkey

A doctor offers advice on how to safely prepare turkey and properly store leftovers to avoid foodborne illness.

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CLEVELAND — Before your guests ‘gobble’ up that Thanksgiving turkey, be sure you’re handling it safely.

According to Cleveland Clinic emergency department physician, Baruch Fertel, MD, it’s important to pay attention to temperature to avoid foodborne illness.

“When you’re defrosting a turkey, or you’re defrosting some frozen meat, it’s always safer to defrost that in a fridge that’s below 40 degrees,” he explained. “Because we really don’t want it to reach between 40 and 140 — that room temperature danger zone, which is when the bacteria can grow.”

To avoid spreading bacteria, the USDA does not recommend washing or prepping your turkey in the sink.

Instead, find a clean area on the countertop, and be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after.

You’ll also want to disinfect any surfaces the raw turkey touched.

While cooking, use a meat thermometer to ensure the turkey has a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

During dinner, be sure perishable items aren’t left out for more than two hours, leaving them susceptible to bacteria growth.

And when it comes to leftovers, put smaller amounts into shallow containers and put those in the fridge or freezer right away.

“In the fridge, four days for leftovers is typically the max,” said Dr. Fertel. “And, of course, if you encounter something that has a bad smell, bad taste, doesn’t look right — immediately dispose of it, it’s not worth taking a risk.”

As a general rule of thumb, with Thanksgiving being on a Thursday, on Monday you should dispose of any uneaten leftovers in your fridge.

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