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Talking turkey: Thanksgiving food safety

Holiday meals can be delicious but have also been known to cause indigestion. Take care this holiday season. (Courtesy photo)

Holiday meals can be delicious but have also been known to cause indigestion. Take care this holiday season. (Courtesy photo)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- The holiday season usually means friends, family, and of course, food.

The holiday season could also mean food-related illnesses if food items are not properly thawed, prepared, cooked or stored.

The following are a few food safety tips to ensure family and friends do not encounter food-related illnesses this holiday season.

It is always best to plan ahead when preparing any large cut of meat. The preferred thawing method is to place the item on a platter in the refrigerator and store it on the bottom shelf to prevent juices from coming in contact with other food items. For every five pounds of turkey, you should allow for approximately 24 hours of thawing at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other methods of thawing include thawing in cold water (30 minutes per pound for turkey), and in the microwave (following the manufacturer's instructions). If either the cold water or microwave methods are used, the turkey must be immediately cooked since thawing was not temperature controlled.

Traditionally, many people cook their Thanksgiving stuffing inside the turkey; however, stuffing is safest when cooked in a casserole dish until it reaches a temperature of at least 165 F. If you are not one to part with tradition and are planning on stuffing a turkey, ensure wet and dry ingredients are mixed right before stuffing the bird and immediately place it in the oven.

The cooking times at approximately 325 F for unstuffed and stuffed turkeys may vary as shown below:

Unstuffed
· 4 to 6 pounds (breast): 1 ½ to 2 ¼ hours
· 6 to 8 pounds (breast): 2 ¼ to 3 ¼ hours
· 8 to 12 pounds: 2 ¾ to 3 hours
· 12 to 14 pounds: 3 to 3 ¾ hours
· 14 to 18 pounds: 3 ¾ to 4½ hours
· 18 to 20 pounds: 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
· 20 to 40 pounds: 4 ¼ to 5 hours

Stuffed
· 8 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 ½ hours
· 12 to 14 pounds: 3 ½ to 4 hours
· 14 to 18 pounds: 4 to 4 ¼ hours
· 18 to 20 pounds: 4 ½ to 4 ¾ hours
· 20 to 24 pounds: 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

A food thermometer should be used to ensure a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F has been reached to destroy bacteria and prevent food borne illness.

Holiday dinner and the trimmings, once prepared, should not be left out at room temperature for more than four hours. Any items that are leftover and have not been left out for more than four hours should be stored in shallow pans and refrigerated or frozen to prevent bacteria growth.