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Thanksgiving safety tips: How to store leftovers, cook stuffing, refrigerate a turkey and more

There is a reason that so many of us don't do our own taxes. With something we do only once a year, the details don't stick in our brains. So it goes with Thanksgiving turkey. Wait, is it 20 minutes per pound in a 350-degree oven? And when do I start basting?

Along with turkey cooking particulars, it's good to be reminded of holiday food safety fundamentals. This is where Amy Simonne, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences food safety expert, comes in.

Her answer to the big controversial question of the moment: To wash your poultry or not?

"It is not recommended because it causes more contamination in your kitchen. Minimize handling those products in the kitchen before cooking."

More safety fundamentals for the big day:

• Fresh turkeys can be kept in the refrigerator for only one or two days, but after that, they must be cooked or frozen. Store a fresh turkey in a pan in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.

• To save time, you can prepare the stuffing ingredients in advance. Keep wet and dry ingredients separated — and the wet ingredients refrigerated — until just before you cook the stuffing. The safest way to make stuffing is to cook it separately, not inside the turkey. If you do choose to stuff the turkey, pack the stuffing loosely, and cook the turkey immediately afterward. Remove the stuffing from the turkey about 20 minutes after the turkey is done cooking.

• If the turkey, stuffing and gravy or other perishable foods are left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours or for 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees, discard them.

• After you've cooked and served the meal, you can divide the products into small portions and keep them in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

• Leftover meat should be eaten within 3 to 4 days; gravy, within 1 to 2 days. You can freeze leftovers, but make sure you eat them within 6 months.

For more questions on turkey or other holiday foods, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-674-6854.

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

Thanksgiving safety tips: How to store leftovers, cook stuffing, refrigerate a turkey and more 11/18/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2015 10:50am]
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