K-State Research and Extension News
November 19, 2008
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Turkey Dinner Still a Bargain –
Food Safety Tips Keep Meal Healthy

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The cost of preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is surprisingly low – less than $5 per person.

To arrive at an average cost, the American Farm Bureau Federation asks volunteer shoppers to shop for traditional holiday foods and then compares their costs to arrive at an average cost for a classic holiday dinner for 10 each year, said Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist.

This year’s tally, which covers the cost of a 16-pound turkey, 14-oz. package of cubed stuffing, 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, two pie shells, 3 pounds of sweet potatoes, 12 dinner rolls, 1 pound of green peas, a one-pound relish tray (with carrots and celery), a gallon of whole milk, a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries, one-half pint of cream and miscellaneous ingredients (salt, pepper, and spices, for example) is $44.61 – or $4.46 per person.

The 2008 cost for the meal for 10 is up slightly – $2.35, which is about 6 percent more than the 2007 cost which was $42.26, Blakeslee said.

Costs will vary a bit with shopping choices available locally, said Blakeslee, who encourages families and friends to share the planning and preparation of the holiday feast to simplify the process, add enjoyment for everyone involved and share the costs.

Blakeslee advises keeping food safety in mind when asking for volunteers or making assignments, such as asking those who travel the farthest to bring non-perishable food items.

While much of the food safety advice for the perennial meal focuses on cooking a turkey to 165 degrees F to reduce potential risks from Salmonella or E. coli O157: H7 that may be present on the uncooked poultry, allowing leftovers to stand at room temperature for extended periods of time also can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses, she said.

Roasting or otherwise cooking a turkey to 165 degrees F will kill Clostridium perfringens, bacteria that also can sometimes be found on turkey. This bacteria can form spores that can return to their vegetative state (and cause illness) if cooked turkey remains at room temperature too long, Blakeslee said.

How long is too long?

Remove cooked turkey from the carcass and store all leftover meat in shallow containers. Cover and refrigerate the leftovers within two hours (or less) after roasting or cooking, she said.

Leftover turkey can be reheated to 165 degrees F and should be used within two to three  days, the food scientist said. When wrapped, labeled and frozen after a holiday meal, leftover turkey will typically retain its quality for up to three to four months.

More information on food, food safety, nutrition and health is available at:  http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety and http://oznet.ksu.edu/humannutrition/


Holiday Cooking Questions, Answers
Can Simplify Planning, Preparation

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Hosting a holiday meal can bring family and friends together for a day of good food and fellowship, but the day can also spell stress for the host or hostess.

There are ways, however, to avoid stress when hosting a holiday meal, according to Karen Blakeslee.            

"Traditional Thanksgiving menus can be easily divided so guests can share in the preparation and lighten the load for holiday hosts," said Blakeslee, a Kansas State University Research and Extension food scientist. In her role as the Rapid Response Coordinator, Blakeslee spends many of her working hours answering questions from county extension agents about food and food safety. Here is a sampling of frequently-asked questions and her answers about preparing a turkey and storing leftovers:          

Q: Which is better, fresh or frozen turkey?

A: The taste of fresh and frozen turkeys is comparable. Consumers can typically trim food costs by purchasing a frozen turkey at a pre-holiday sale price; fresh turkeys may need to be ordered and then picked up a day or two before they will be cooked. 

Q: How much turkey should I buy?

A: The general rule in buying a bone-in turkey is to allow one pound per person. If additional white meat is preferred, consider buying a larger turkey or an additional turkey breast.

Q: Is there a best way to thaw a frozen turkey?

A: Place a frozen turkey (in its store wrap) in a shallow pan or a baking sheet (with a lip to catch drips) in the refrigerator. Allow one day of thawing time for each 4-5 pounds of turkey.

Q: Is there a faster way to thaw a frozen turkey?  

A: Consumers who may have forgotten to put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw can use a cold-water method. Submerge the turkey (in its store wrap) in cold water in a clean, large sink or bathtub. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time per pound. Drain and replace cold water every 30 minutes during the thawing process.

Follow manufacturer’s instructions to thaw a smaller frozen turkey or turkey breast in a microwave oven. Thawing meat and poultry products in a microwave oven begins the cooking process, which will need to be continued immediately. 

Q: Is it necessary to wash a turkey after removing a store wrap?

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer recommends rinsing a raw turkey in cool running water. Heat during cooking will kill any bacteria present. Eliminating this step cuts the risk of cross contamination from rinse water splashed around the sink and on the counter.

Q: What’s in the bag in the neck and/or cavity?    

A: Turkey parts, such as the neck or giblets, a word that describes the heart, liver and gizzard (edible parts of the turkey), are typically packaged in a paper bag and placed in the neck or body cavity. The bag should be removed before cooking. The neck can be cooked alongside the turkey. The giblets should be cooked separately and may be used in dressing or gravy.

If you forget to remove the parts before cooking, it is possible to save them. Most giblets are wrapped in an oven-safe paper and will be safe to use. If they are wrapped in plastic, the plastic may melt into the turkey and leave an off odor. If so, the giblets should not be used.          

Q: Why a hock lock?

A: The hock lock secures the turkey legs after processing. It is typically made of heat-resistant nylon or metal and can be left on during roasting. Removing it before roasting will, however, allow more even roasting.

Q: Is it possible to cook a turkey from a frozen state?       

A: Yes, but the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states that cooking a turkey (in the oven) from a frozen state will take at least 50 percent longer than cooking a fully thawed turkey. The giblet pack will need to be removed (with tongs or a long-handled fork) during cooking time. The USDA does not recommend smoking, grilling, deep fat frying or microwaving a whole frozen turkey.

Q: Is it possible to roast a turkey without a roaster?

A:  Roasting a turkey requires a shallow pan (2-inches deep, for example) that is larger than the turkey (to catch juices). Using a V-rack, which can be purchased with a pan or separately, will lift the turkey from the bottom of the pan and allow air to circulate in the cooking process. Place the turkey in the V-rack or pan breast side up; tuck wing tips under the shoulders. 

An aluminum foil tent can be used in place of a lid during the first 90 minutes of roasting time to help the heat circulate and, toward the end of cooking, to protect the turkey from overbrowning or drying out. Adding a half cup of water to the bottom of the pan also will help keep the turkey from drying out.            

Q: What is the recommended roasting time and temperature? And, is it necessary to preheat the oven?                       

A: Set the oven at 325 degrees F oven and allow 20 minutes per pound. Add 45 minutes for a stuffed turkey and about 15-20 minutes for a turkey to set up after it has tested done (165 degrees F) to make carving easier. Keep the turkey covered during holding time. Roasting is a slow process, so it’s not necessary to preheat the oven.  

Q: Is it possible to cook a turkey at a low temperature overnight?

A: Cooking a turkey overnight at 200 degrees F and then holding it until serving time is not recommended. At 200 degrees F, meat remains in the so-called "Temperature Danger Zone" between 40 and 140 degrees F, in which bacteria can multiply rapidly and form toxins.

Holding a cooked turkey at a safe internal temperature of 140 degrees F for long periods of time can dry out the turkey and affect its quality and taste. If preparing a turkey in advance of the intended serving time, carve it and place it in shallow containers with covers before refrigerating it. Serve the turkey cold or reheat it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Q: How should I use a meat thermometer?           

A: The only sure way to tell if meat or poultry is cooked to recommended temperatures is by using a food thermometer. For all poultry, the USDA recommends a cooked temperature of 165 degrees F. With a whole turkey, insert the thermometer probe into the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast, but not touching the bone. With a turkey breast, insert the probe in the thickest part of the breast – again, not touching the bone.        

Information on how to choose and use a meat thermometer is available on the K-State Research and Extension food safety Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety.

Q: Will a pop-up timer do?

A: Pop-up timers packaged with a turkey have a short probe that is not usually deep enough to get an accurate temperature reading.

Q: Is there an easy way to carve a turkey?

A: Carving a turkey in the kitchen can be easier and less intimidating than carving the turkey at the dinner table. To begin, cut off the legs, wings and thighs at the joints. To remove the breast meat one side at a time, cut the meat away from the breast bone and then make a horizontal cut (similar to a quarter cut on a circle) so meat can be sliced easily.            

Q: Should all meat be removed from the carcass before the meal?   

A: Removing the meat from the carcass after the meal is recommended. Wrap and refrigerate the carcass (if it will be used for soup stock) separately from the meat, which should be stored in a shallow pan (2-inches deep, for example), covered.

Q: Why is it necessary to store leftovers in a shallow pan? And, why covered?        

A:  Placing leftovers in a shallow pan allows fast, uniform cooling. Covering leftovers prevents flavor migration and reduces the risk of cross contamination. 

Q: How quickly should leftovers be used?

A: Three days is the general rule. If leftovers will not be used within three days, they should be wrapped, labeled, and dated before being frozen for a future meal. If well wrapped, cooked turkey generally freezes well for three to four months.            

Q: Should leftovers be reheated?

A: Turkey may be eaten cold or hot. Reheating leftovers such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy or a cooked vegetable casserole to 165 degrees F is recommended.        

Q: Should leftover pies be refrigerated?    

A: A homemade pumpkin pie, which is a custard-style pie containing eggs, should be covered and refrigerated. Leftover fruit pie, which typically is prepared without eggs, can be covered and stored on the counter. For best quality, refrigerate.       

Q: If pumpkin pie should be refrigerated, then why are some pumpkin pies being sold at supermarkets not refrigerated?

A: Commercial pies that are not refrigerated typically are made from a commercial recipe formulated with shelf-stable ingredients. Refrigerating the pies at home is recommended.

Q: Do you have any tips for getting everything ready on time?        

A: Plan ahead and divide menu items into three categories: Make ahead; stovetop; and side dishes such as a salad, relish tray or vegetable casserole that others can bring.         

More information on choosing and preparing holiday foods, food, food safety, nutrition and health is available at http://www.oznet.ksu.edu and http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/foodsafety.         

The USDA´s Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) is a toll-free resource for consumers, who can call to ask food and food safety questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m to 2 p.m. EST. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service also maintains a Web site (www.fsis.usda.gov) for consumers with current information and fact sheets about food and food safety topics and a question-and-answer service dubbed “Ask Karen.”


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673 or kblakesl@oznet.ksu.edu.