LIVINGSTON, NJ — Reiterating that safe food preparation is critical to an enjoyable holiday, the Livingston Health Department is reminding residents to prepare their turkey and side dishes properly in order to prevent foodborne illnesses this Thanksgiving.

“Whether it is your first time making a Thanksgiving meal or you have been hosting for years, the following tips and reminders can help ensure that your food is prepared safely,” the department said.

Thawing a frozen turkey:

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Those planning to purchase a frozen turkey should first make sure there is enough room in the freezer to store the turkey until it is time to thaw. According to Livingston Health Department, a fresh or thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days. Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator requires 24 hours in the refrigerator per every four-to-five pounds. 

A turkey can also be thawed by placing it in cold water, the department stated. The health department suggests allowing 30 minutes per pound and changing the water every 30 minutes as well.

A large enough microwave can also be used to thaw a turkey as long as the manufacturer’s instructions are followed carefully. According to the Livingston Health Department, the turkey should be cooked immediately after being thawed in cold water or the microwave.

Safely handling a turkey:

“Wash your hands, but not your turkey,” the department said. “It is impossible to wash bacteria off of the bird; cooking is the only way to get rid of the bacteria from the turkey. That means you can save yourself the trouble and mess of washing poultry…Be sure to thoroughly wash cutting boards or any other surfaces with which the raw turkey may have come in contact.”

Any of the giblets/neck, which can be found inside the cavity of the turkey, should be removed from the turkey before cooking. Residents should thoroughly wash their hands after touching the raw turkey, according to the department.

Cooking the stuffing and turkey:

Stuffing can be cooked either inside or outside of the turkey. If cooking it inside the turkey, residents are urged to make sure the stuffing is moist and packed loosely.

Any meat or shellfish being added to the stuffing should be fully cooked before it is stuffed inside the turkey.

“Because it goes into the middle of the bird and is extremely porous, bacteria from the uncooked turkey finds its way into the stuffing,” the Livingston Health Department said. “This makes it critical for stuffing cooked inside a turkey to be thoroughly cooked to a minimum of 165˚F to be safe…Be sure to choose a roasting pan that is large enough for the turkey and has sturdy handles.”

The turkey should be cooked until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165˚F. If the turkey is stuffed, it will need to cook for about an additional 15 minutes in the oven. After the turkey is done cooking, it should rest for 20 minutes before being carved.

The health department suggests using the guide below to determine how long to cook a turkey in the oven.

Cooking Time for an Unstuffed Turkey

Oven Temperature: 325˚F

8 to 12 lbs: 2.75 to 3 hours

12 to 14 lbs: 3 to 3.75 hours

14 to 18 lbs: 3.75 to 4.25 hours

18 to 20 lbs: 4.25 to 4.5 hours

20 to 24 lbs: 4.5 to 5 hours

Leftovers should be put in the refrigerator within two hours. Once refrigerated, leftover turkey and stuffing should be eaten within three to four days.

The Livingston Health Department wished all residents and their loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.