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Reasons to be Thankful You Burned the Bird!

Reasons to be Thankful You Burned the Bird!
  1.  Salmonella won’t be a concern.
  2. Uninvited guests will think twice next year.
  3. Your cheese broccoli lima bean casserole will gain newfound appreciation.
  4. Pets won’t pester you for your scraps.
  5. No one will overeat.
  6. The smoke alarm was due for a test.
  7. Carving the bird will provide a good cardiovascular workout.
  8. You’ll get to dessert quicker.
  9. After dinner, the guys can take the bird to play football.
  10. You won’t have to face three weeks of turkey sandwiches.


The above reasons are funny, but foodborne illness is not! Foodborne illness is real and can occur in any home gathering if food is not properly cooked and handled. For some, it can be a minor inconvenience with mild symptoms, but for others, particularly the very young, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised, it can be a very serious illness requiring hospitalization. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Meat and Poultry hotline gets especially busy during this time period. This column reports some of the questions to the USDA hotline and the USDA responses. Perhaps you have had similar questions but were embarrassed to ask! (For more questions and answers, visit the USDA’s website, “Ask Karen.”

Question: “I discovered I cooked the turkey with the package of giblets still inside. Are the turkey and giblets safe to eat?” If giblets were left in the cavity during roasting, even though this is not recommended, the turkey and giblets are probably safe to use. However, if the packaging containing the giblets has changed shape or melted in any way during cooking, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals from the packaging may have penetrated the surrounding meat.

Question: “How long can you keep leftover cooked turkey or chicken in the refrigerator?” It is recommended using cooked turkey within 3 to 4 days. Refrigeration slows but does not stop bacterial growth. There are two completely different families of bacteria: pathogenic bacteria, the kind that cause foodborne illness, and spoilage bacteria, the kind of bacteria that cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes, and textures. Spoilage bacteria can grow at low temperatures, such as in the refrigerator. Eventually they cause food to develop off or bad tastes and smells. Most people would not choose to eat spoiled food, but if they did, they probably would not get sick. However, some bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes thrive at cold temperatures, and if present, will grow in the refrigerator and could cause illness. Pathogenic bacteria can grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone,” the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F. Because they do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food, one cannot tell that a pathogen is present.

Question: “I purchased a fresh stuffed turkey form my local grocery store in the deli department. One of my guest said it’s not safe to eat. Is she right?” Yes, she’s right. USDA recommends discarding it or returning the product to the store where purchased. You should only buy pre-stuffed turkeys that display the USDA or State mark of inspection on the packaging.

Question: “Is butter safe at room temperature?” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects foods like butter. Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature. However, if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid so it’s best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two. Margarine, especially soft tub margarines, can separate into oil or water and solids when not kept refrigerated although it will be safe.

Question: “ I put a 20lb turkey in the a 200 degree oven before I went to bed last night and the pop-up time says it’s already done at 7:30 this morning. We are not eating until 3:00 p.m. What should I do?” Overnight cooking of meat at a low temperature isn’t a safe method so we don’t recommend eating this turkey. Secondly, holding a properly cooked turkey for this long at a safe internal temperature of 140 degrees F or above for such a long time as this will dry it out and affect the quality of the meat. If this turkey had been cooked properly and was safe to eat, the best way to hold it for all those hours would be to carve it and refrigerate it in covered shallow containers. It could then be served cold or reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Question: “I baked my pumpkin pies a few days ago and they have been sitting on the counter. Are they ok to eat?” Foods made with eggs and milk must first be safely baked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Then they should be cooled and then refrigerated. You would be taking a chance if you eat these pies.

Question: “I roasted my holiday turkey yesterday and put it in the refrigerator. It isn’t stuffed so I thought it was safe. Then my daughter said I shouldn’t have refrigerated it whole. Is it safe to eat today?” We do not recommend you refrigerate a cooked turkey whole — it could take too long to cool down to a safe temperature. For optimal safety, cut whole or large pieces of poultry into small pieces. It’s okay to leave the drumsticks, thighs and wings intact, if you prefer. Refrigerate in covered shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. This is very important to ensure rapid, even cooling and quick reheating.

Don’t take chances with your family and guests. Follow food safety rules. For more questions and answers like those above and a packet on food safety, District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org You can also contact the USDA Meat and Poultry line directly at 1-888-674-6854. They are open on Thanksgiving from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Or you can email them at mphotline.fsis@usda.gov , or visit their website, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline.

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