Cooking for turkey day

Staff Sgt. Monisha Barnes
435th Medical Group Public Health Flight

Thanksgiving Day is associated with food, football, family and more food. But most don’t associate it with proper food preparation.

“Food safety should be a very important ingredient during festive occasion,” said Lt. Col. Brian Ortman, 435th Medical Group Public Health Flight commander.

Cold foods or dairy products should be kept below 41 F or 5 C and hot foods should be kept at 140 F or 60 C or above. The temperature range from 41 to 140 F is called the “danger zone,” and is the range in which bacteria are most likely to grow, he said.
Large meat items should be thawed in a refrigerator not more than three days prior to use. Quick thawing in a sink or on a counter can cause outer areas of large meats to be in the danger zone while the inside is still frozen. For procrastinators, faster thawing can be accomplished by placing meat item under cold running water. Read the label for amount of time to thaw.

When cooking turkey, use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches at least 165 F. Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook because stuffing acts as insulation.

“We recommend stuffing be cooked separately to ensure proper temperatures are reached and bacteria are killed,” said Colonel Ortman. “In at least one recorded case, turkey thighs had reached an internal temperature of 200 F while the stuffing inside was still at 90 F. If you insert the thermometer in the thigh and get a reading of 185 F, then the breast should be at 165 F.”

Cross contamination, when other food items come in contact with raw meat or juices, is also a big concern. Avoid it by sanitizing food preparation surfaces and utensils when different types of foods such as raw meats and vegetables are prepared.

Leftovers should be refrigerated in shallow dishes immediately, ensuring quick cooling without giving bacteria the time to multiply. Label the items with the day it was prepared.

Personal hygiene is a must when preparing food for a Thanksgiving feast. Wash hands with soap and water and avoid wearing jewelry.

“These measures will help protect your family and friends by making your holiday meals food borne illness free,” said Colonel Ortman.

For more information, call the 435th Medical Group Public Health Office at 479-2234 or visit