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Shelly Barnes: A schedule to keep Thanksgiving foods safe

Shelly Barnes • Updated Nov 16, 2016 at 7:45 PM

Serving as host on Thanksgiving can be a logistical challenge that starts with planning what to cook and ends with figuring out what to do with all of those leftovers. Janie Burney, a food safety specialist with University of Tennessee Extension, recommends you should streamline your Thanksgiving planning to ensure you have a fun and food-safe holiday.

Here’s a schedule that might help you plan for a food-safe holiday:

• Wednesday, Nov. 16: Is your frozen turkey 20-24 pounds? If you are defrosting it in the refrigerator, today is the day to place that bird in the fridge. If your turkey weighs 16-20 pounds, allow four to five days of thawing. Allow three to four days for 12-16-pound turkeys and three to four days for 4-12-pound birds.

• Monday, Nov. 21: You can start making side dishes. Stored in the refrigerator, they still will be good Thanksgiving Day.

• Tuesday, Nov. 22: It’s the day to purchase that fresh turkey. When you are purchasing your turkey, plan for 1 pound per person to ensure there is enough turkey to go around. 

• Wednesday, Nov. 23: If you haven’t started to defrost your turkey, use the cold running water method to ensure it’s thawed for Thanksgiving. Wrap your turkey securely and submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Allow 10-12 hours thawing for a 20-24-pound turkey, 8-10 hours for 16-20 pounds, six to eight hours for 12-16 pounds, and two to six hours for 4-12 pounds. 

 It is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state, said Burney. However, the cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. 

“Remember to remove the giblet packages during cooking,” said Burney. “They can be removed carefully with tongs or a fork.”

Turkey cooking guidance: You cannot tell if a turkey is done just by the color. Your bird is not safe until it reaches 165 degrees. Check the temperature in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing and the innermost part of the thigh. 

“Don’t forget to check the temperature of the stuffing, too,” Burney said. “This can be crucial to a food-safe holiday.” 

Burney recommends you take the turkey out of the oven and let it stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle.

• Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 24: Don’t forget the two-hour rule. Be sure to place all perishable food in a shallow container and put it in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.

• Monday, Nov. 28: It’s the last day to eat those leftovers or put them in the freezer.

For additional information about food-safe practices, contact your county’s UT Extension family and consumer sciences agent at the county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached atsbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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