WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2013—With all the preparation that goes into a Thanksgiving feast, many hosts could use an extra assistant to make sure everything goes as planned. This Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is offering help through the “Ask Karen” website, food safety app and the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-MPHotline).
“A delicious meal is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the USDA wants your meal to be as safe as it is enjoyable,” USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. “Through the Ask Karen app and the Meat and Poultry Hotline, the USDA can help with food safety questions right when and where you need answers.”
“Karen” is the face of the Ask Karen food safety app, which contains a searchable database of nearly 1,300 questions submitted by real consumers and answers provided by the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. “Ask Karen” is available in English and Spanish and can be downloaded for free from the iTunes and Android app stores, or accessed at AskKaren.gov. On weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET, the bilingual USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline provides live chat services through the app and also can be reached at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be available by phone from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET, though live chat services will not be provided through the app.
Here are some of the Thanksgiving questions that people commonly “Ask Karen,” and the responses she provides:
What is the safest way to thaw a frozen turkey?
There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never thaw a turkey on the counter or in other locations. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Allow about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. For more information about thawing, go to The Big Thaw.
Should I wash the turkey before cooking it?
Washing poultry before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination.
Some consumers think they are removing bacteria and making their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen. Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing food is not necessary.
Is it safe to stuff and freeze a turkey before cooking?
Do not stuff whole poultry and freeze before cooking. If you choose to stuff your turkey, you must cook it immediately after stuffing. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey and stuffing. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The center of the stuffing must also reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.
How do I handle leftovers safely?
Refrigerate leftovers at 40 degrees (4.4°C) or below, or freeze (0 °F) ( -17.7°C) as soon as possible. Never leave food out more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees (32.2 °C). Divide leftovers into shallow containers. This encourages rapid, even cooling. Cover with airtight lids or enclose in plastic wraps or aluminum foil. Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days, or freeze them for longer storage.