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Make Thanksgiving meal safe, healthy

By Lisa Franzen-Castle

UNL Extension Nutrition Specialist

As Thanksgiving approaches, planning and preparing for the holiday dinner can result in anxiety and questions.

What kind of turkey should I buy? Should I buy a frozen or fresh turkey? How do I store my turkey?

A few simple steps will ease holiday fears and ensure a delicious and a safe meal for family and friends. The following tips may help you prepare a successful and safe holiday meal.

Tips for a successful and safe Thanksgiving:

--Plan ahead. Cut down on holiday anxiety and stress by planning ahead. Plan the menu two to three weeks before the holiday. Shopping early will ease the countdown tension for your Thanksgiving meal.

--Fresh or frozen? That is one of the Thanksgiving turkey questions. There is no difference in quality between a fresh or frozen turkey. You can buy a frozen turkey in advance and take advantage of special sales. Fresh turkeys provide convenience because they don't require thawing, but they have shorter shelf lives. Before purchasing, make sure there is enough space in your refrigerator or freezer.

--When to buy the bird. A whole frozen turkey takes about 24 hours per four to five pounds to thaw in the refrigerator. Purchase a frozen turkey as far in advance as necessary to safely thaw it in the refrigerator. If buying fresh, purchase it only one to two days before the meal and keep it refrigerated.

--How do you know when it's done? A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a food thermometer. Insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh, not touching bone to measure the temperature.

--Carving and food safety. Worried about food safety when carving and serving turkey this Thanksgiving? It's best to let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set, and it will carve easier. Use a clean cutting board that has a well to catch juices. Remove stuffing from the turkey cavity. Make sure the knife is sharp before you start carving.

--Storing your Thanksgiving leftovers. It's important to store leftover turkey in shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours. Use cooked leftover turkey, stuffing and gravy within three to four days. Cooked turkey keeps for three to four months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers thoroughly to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and bring gravy to a boil before serving.

--Who you gonna call? The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline can personally answer food safety questions on weekdays year-round. This toll-free telephone service helps prevent foodborne illness by answering questions about the safe storage, handling, and preparation of meat, poultry, and egg products. The hotline is staffed by food safety specialists with backgrounds in home economics, nutrition, and food technology. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 88-674-6854or send an email to mphotline.fsis@usda.gov.

Make this Thanksgiving holiday healthy and safe by following these tips and recommendations from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. For more food, nutrition, and health information related to Thanksgiving go to http://go.unl.edu/pmu.

Date: 11/12/2012

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